Referring Patients: It All Comes Back to Value
BY CARLA J. MACK, OD, FAAO, EDITOR
What does it mean to be an expert or specialist in the field of contact lenses? As peers in eye care, do we believe such titles exist? If such specialties exist, do we use our peers and their expert knowledge to the advantage of our patients? I've had several recent conversations with optometrists who would describe their practices as providing primary care as well as providing a specialty or niche practice with a concentration in specialty contact lens fitting. They have, however, met some resistance from neighboring practitioners for referrals and consultations for specialty contact lens fitting.
I'd have to agree with these practitioners that our profession has not fully bought into the idea that a neighboring colleague and practitioner may be able to provide better or more advanced care in a particular area than we can. In my University teaching setting, we thankfully see patients who are referred for our care and our opinion each day in every specialty area in which we practice (contact lenses, ocular disease, binocular vision, pediatrics and vision rehabilitation). We strive to have open lines of communication with our referring doctors, to provide timely feedback and to always get the patient back to the referring doctor as soon as our specialty care is complete. So what's causing the hesitation for inter-professional referrals?
If we want to be perfectly honest, the two biggest concerns are, "Will I lose this patient because they think the other doctor is providing better care?" or, "Will I lose revenue because that patient may purchase spectacles from the other practice?" Both are legitimate concerns, but now consider the other side…the value side. Your integrity improves if you help patients resolve their problems, whether you provide the care or find the provider. Why were you chosen for care for the first visit and why did patients continue to return to you for other visits?
If you are concerned about lost revenue from a spectacle sale, then you need to examine your practice, what it offers and why patients should return to you. In the end, you must understand your value to and relationship with your patients and put them first by developing relationships with your colleagues.