For many patients, their impression of an optometric practice will be influenced by every team member they encounter, extending beyond their interaction with the eye care professional (ECP) in the exam room.
Lynn E. Lawrence, a national lecturer and ophthalmic technician at Mills Eye and Facial Plastic Surgery, shares how ophthalmic technicians and staff can play a vital role in a patient’s visit.
Pay Careful Attention to Patient History
A case history can be the foundation of the patient visit, and allowing the time for a thorough intake can help the ECP gain critical pieces of information for the clinical diagnosis, Mr. Lawrence suggests.
For example, Mr. Lawrence recently took a family history of a female patient who mentioned her mother, two sisters, an aunt and her grandmother all had skin cancer. The patient presented to the office with a bump over one eyelid that didn’t go away after three months. Mr. Lawrence photographed the eyelid bump with a digital fundus camera, magnified it, and sent the image to her dermatologist’s office, per his optometrist’s instructions. After further testing, the patient received a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma, which was caught early.
“Her family history was a key part in getting the patient the right medical treatment she needed, and that started in the eye clinic,” Mr. Lawrence says.
Many patients don’t realize the eyes’ connection to other parts of the body, he adds. “People have twelve cranial nerves, and six of them play a major role in vision,” he continues. “If something is happening in a person’s body, there’s a high probability it will impact their ocular health. Because of this, it’s important that ophthalmic technicians don’t rush through history taking, since they may miss key information.”
Cultivate a Problem Solver Mentality
Even in the smoothest running practices, challenges can arise, and when they do, techs can be at the front-line to defuse them, Mr. Lawrence says.
“First, a good tech will try and listen to the patient, not talk to them. If a patient is upset, I’ll get a piece of paper and pencil, let them know I’m on board, and I’m listening,” Mr. Lawrence explains. “I’ll say, ‘Tell me what you see as the problem.’ Then, I’ll write down what they say and repeat it back to them.”
In other instances, such as a full waiting room and a scheduling backlog, reoccurring communication is the right tool, he adds. For example, if the ECP is detained because of an emergency in the exam room, the patients in the reception area may not be aware of the situation and the reason for their appointment delay.
Many offices have a protocol in which it’s the front desk’s responsibility to tell patients if the doctor is running behind, but the message can be more impactful coming directly from someone in the back, namely the tech, Mr. Lawrence explains. In these instances, the tech can inform the waiting patients that the ECP is in the middle of an emergency, which is causing the delay.
“The tech can come from the back and say, ‘We have an emergency and apologize for the delay, but as soon as we can get back online, we’re going to get you in to see the doctor. If you can’t wait, please go to the front desk and reschedule, as we’d love to see you another time,” he adds.
Keep an Eye on the Patients Outside of the Pretest Area and Exam Room
It’s also important for the tech to keep an eye on the waiting area in-between seeing patients, he adds.
“If a patient has been sitting for 30 minutes, the tech should ask if the person is there for an appointment or if they’re waiting for a patient,” Mr. Lawrence continues. If the individual is a patient who’s been waiting for a long time, the tech should communicate that they will consult with the front desk to find out the reason for the delay.
“That shows a patient that you care. Mistakes happen, but it’s how you engage in the error that can make a big difference in a patient’s experience,” he says.
Staff can also be instrumental in gauging a patient’s experience through follow-up surveys. “Patient feedback is a good barometer to scheduling success or whether it needs to be adjusted,” Mr. Lawrence says. “Ask patients to tell you about the visit. Was scheduling the appointment easy? Was the appointment on time, or did they have to wait, and if so, how long?”
Also, staff can encourage happy patients to leave the practice a review. “You don’t want those one or two unhappy patient reviews to be the only ones on your website,” Mr. Lawrence adds.
View Your Role as a Professional
When Mr. Lawrence conducts staff development training through his consulting business, he makes sure to address each team member as a medic, so they will view themselves as a professional in the medical field.
“From check in to check out, each staff member is a medic. I’ve had front desk staff members ask me, ‘How am I a medic?’ I respond that when a patient calls the office complaining of a red eye, the first level of triage starts at the front desk.”
Likewise, if someone walks into the practice with a medical emergency, the first person who needs to make a decision is the front desk staff member.
“Staff are medics who work in a medical field, and need to have a healthy respect for what they do so others will as well. Staff need to consider themselves as professionals and not employees. Eye care is a technical and sensitive area of medicine, so there’s much respect to be earned in this profession, and staff need to view themselves as professionals working in the medical field.”
Remember: Practice Culture Influences Patient Perceptions
Mr. Lawrence views a patient’s visit not as a doctor’s appointments but as an invitation.
“When a patient comes into an office, they’re invited into the culture of a practice, not to have an appointment but to have an experience. Staff and technicians should keep in mind, there are other optometry offices patients can go to, so why come to theirs?” he asks.
Mr. Lawrence is a self-described fan of the Disney concept. “Disney doesn’t compete with other theme parks. They’ve established themselves as, ‘We’re number one and everyone else wants to be like us.’ When you go to Disney, it’s a magical moment, from the time a person walks into the gate and get on their first ride,” he explains. The same philosophy should also be embraced by optometric practices, he says.
Finally, staff training is a cornerstone of the patient experience, and a well-trained staff lends itself to a practice’s culture, he adds.
“People may erroneously think that an eye exam is easy, but there’s a great deal of high-level science, and a lot of physics involved. Lightening travels at 186,000 miles per second. And we have to bend light using different materials to get it into the sweet spot on the retina in the back of the eye that makes clear vision,” he says. “When staff is appropriately trained, that adds to the patient experience and makes them happy about coming to a practice. And every practice wants happy patients.”
Lynn E. Lawrence is a national lecturer, consultant and an ophthalmic technician for Mills Eye and Facial Plastic Surgery. He has a master’s degree in organizational leadership and is an American Optometric Association, American Board of Opticianry, Joint Commission for Allied Healthcare Personnel in Ophthalmology, and COPE approved speaker.