What are dry eye patients looking for in their eyecare practitioner? In the past six months, I’ve had several patients book appointments in our Dry Eye Center simply to learn more about their condition. The most recent of these patients had previously seen five different practitioners before she received a diagnosis of meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Although she was ecstatic to finally have a name for her symptoms and a treatment regimen that went beyond “drugstore drops,” she was left with a lot of unanswered questions: What exactly is MGD? Why do I have it? What will this treatment regimen do for me, and if it doesn’t work, what then?
This patient was a middle-aged female with a full-time career and a family of four. She has little free time on her hands. Why didn’t she call the last practitioner back with her questions instead of moving on to practitioner #6? She wasn’t second-guessing his diagnosis or the treatment plan, and she never said anything negative about the practitioner or the practice; yet, here she was, sitting in my chair. For this patient, even though her last practitioner impressed her with a good bedside manner and a diagnosis that others couldn’t provide, she left with the sense that it was up to her to find the answers that she needed.
Diagnose, Treat, Educate
The days of “do this because the doctor said so” are long gone. Many of today’s patients seem so much more invested in their health and want to understand the why and the how. And that’s a great thing! A solid knowledge base is incredibly crucial for patient buy-in; this leads to improved confidence in their practitioner and adherence to the prescribed therapeutic regimen, which is the cornerstone for disease control.
This wonderful privilege of building up our patients’ knowledge base can be time-consuming, however. How can we provide patients with the information that they need while still keeping to our daily schedule?
- Train staff to educate patients on your behalf. This does not mean that practitioners are absolved of this responsibility, but a great staff member is your number one resource in delivering important information and answering questions while freeing you up to see your next patient.
- Educate in chunks. Saving 100% of the education for the very end of the exam can quickly become overwhelming for patients and, therefore, ineffective. A few words said about what you’re looking for and what was found as you progress through the exam can be instrumental in delivering easily digestible information without taking up valuable chair time. And, by the end of the exam, you have a partially educated patient to hand off to your trusted staff member.
- Have dependable resources available. It is more common than not for questions to arise long after the dust settles and a patient has left the office. Printed materials (in layman’s terms), or responsible links on the office website, are extremely helpful for patients to learn more about their specific condition(s) to supplement the personal education that was provided in-office.
And lastly, ensure that patients know through and through that they are not a burden to your practice! Although it is impossible to predict every question that patients might have once they leave your four walls, they need to know that they can come to you to have their questions answered at any time. Being a skilled practitioner isn’t quite enough for 21st century patients; we also need to be accessible educators. CLS