By Amy Hellem
The days when patients dare not question a doctor’s authority are definitely behind us. Instead, patients show up for appointments full of ideas about what condition they have and how a “real expert” ought to treat it. In essence, patients have turned healthcare on its heels, positioning themselves as the experts, while expecting the doctor to simply fill their requests.
There are a plethora of explanations for why this has occurred, but whatever the cause, most doctors find it impossible to overcome and have come to accept it as status quo. A select few, however, have prevailed in maintaining esteem and continue to be revered by most of their patients.
One of the most effective ways they’ve achieved this is by successfully prescribing specialty lenses. For obvious reasons, custom lenses can set a practice apart. But it takes more than superior products to inspire patients to hang on your every word and then follow your advice. If you want to become one of those “doctorly” doctors, here are some behaviors you’ll want to embrace.
Make Patients Feel Special
You may see a dozen high cylinder presbyopes a day, but when Mrs. Smith sits in your chair, she doesn’t want to be treated like just another case. She wants you to ask questions, provide feedback on her responses, and offer her a solution that she feels is perfect for her individual needs.
This makes some doctors uncomfortable because it usually requires asking Mrs. Smith what she dislikes about what you gave her at her last visit. But to be viewed as truly exceptional, you’ll need to dig for flaws if you want to reveal the path to perfection.
For example, don’t just ask “How is your vision?” warns Alan Berman, OD. Instead, he says, ask probing questions including:
- What are your goals?
- What would you like to improve?
- If you could make one thing better, what would it be?
Patients appreciate open-ended questions like these because it illustrates that you care about what they have to say and what’s special about their particular case. And, when you fit them in a specialty lens that is ideally suited to their specific needs, they’re going to feel even more special.
“When I place the order for the lens, I inform the patient that…this lens is not one I am just pulling off the shelf,” says Todd Pfeil, OD. In other words, it’s not something you can replicate for the next patient who walks through the door. “They take great ownership in that … we are taking an extra step, we are fulfilling their visual needs, and we are not just taking a mass-produced product to apply to their eye,” he adds.
Reveal Your Superpowers
As important as listening and communication are in forming patients’ opinions of you, it will be fruitless if you don’t provide an equally high-quality vision solution. And, in the world of contact lenses, specialty designs can go a long way toward setting your practice apart. In fact, hybrid lenses like Duette can make you look like a miracle worker.
For instance, Dr. Pfeil says he loves it when a patient comes to his office and says he can’t wear contact lenses due to astigmatism and presbyopia. His response to that statement is “I’m glad you are here because we can take care of you.”
UltraHealth is another game-changer, particularly to those who have struggled with their vision for years due to keratoconus. Patients instantly notice the improved visual acuity with UltraHealth lenses, says Brian Brightman, OD. And many also notice an improvement in comfort when they’re moving from a solid GP lens, he adds.
Beyond these cases where you are certain you can impress your patient with premium technology specialty lenses, some doctors advocate mentioning top-of-the-line lenses to all possible candidates. “I really want to give them the best product that is out there,” says Golie Roshandel Keovan, OD. “[Duette] offers the patient phenomenal vision,” she says. And, it’s been an excellent practice-builder for her as well.
She is proud to be building a group of loyal patients that want to follow her because they see her as innovative. “I have new technology filtering through my office and [I am] giving them new opportunities to try something, instead of giving them the same thing they have always been in.”
Brian Dembo, OD, PC, agrees: “Our philosophy in the office is to give you the best visual outcome that we can.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Honest
Indeed, many patients are thrilled at the prospect of a customized solution, but the conversation cannot end there. Successful specialty lens fitters know that being honest and forthcoming about adaptation is essential. One way to initiate this discussion is to lead with the positive and move onto adaptation from there.
For example, Dr. Brightman will start by saying, “We now have technology available that lets us fine tune your vision beyond what traditional soft contact lenses can provide.” Next, he talks to the patient about adaptation and fit, adding “because it is a specialty lens, it is going to fit a little bit different than [you] are used to.” In closing, he mentions the benefits: “The vision will be crisper and more consistent.”
The key is to be honest without instilling fear. “I tell them that it doesn’t hurt, it is not painful, but you might be slightly aware of the lens in your eye,” says Dr. Berman. Assure the patient that this is normal and it goes away, he adds.
Inspire and Empower
A confident doctor won’t shy away from empowering patients. On the contrary, Dr. Pfeil advocates putting patients in the driver’s seat. For example, he says, instead of disregarding patients’ concerns with comments like “just give it time,” try instead saying “be patient with yourself.”
Another helpful strategy for winning the respect of patients is to invite them to join you on the quest to help make their lives better. Dr. Berman explains to patients, “This is a process that we are going to work [on] together—you as the patient and me as the doctor—to make this a successful fit.”
Specialty contact lenses present a unique opportunity for doctors to set themselves apart by offering something that patients can’t always get at an office down the block. The opportunity to enjoy a customized solution makes patients feel special, which in turn makes them feel they’ve chosen a very special doctor.
Amy Hellem is an independent writer and researcher who specializes in ophthalmology and optometry. Previously, she served as editor-in-chief of Review of Optometry and Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses and directed the custom publishing division for Review of Ophthalmology.