When was the last time you really thought about how you educate your patients? Are you confident what you’re telling them is being understood, let alone absorbed? The reality is, more often than not, many doctors think they’re getting their overall message across when this is far from the truth.

Don’t believe me? Just ask your family or friends. Odds are you’ll find they’re terrified to ask their doctors follow up questions, or for further clarification, out of fear of looking unintelligent. Therefore, if your initial presentation isn’t in words or phrases that are easy to understand, your patients may be walking out of your office more confused than when they walked in.

I recently started thinking hard about how I educate my patients. Is what I’m doing the best way to deliver eyecare information in a simple, easy-to-understand way? After doing some additional research, as well as trying out some new techniques, below are a few things I recommend you try in your office:

1. Role-play various patient scenarios with someone who knows nothing about the eye. After doing this with family and friends, I was completely surprised by how much I was overcomplicating things. Words like “refractive,” “accommodative” or even “ocular” are just not words that register with most people. By doing this exercise, you’ll really open your eyes to areas you can improve upon when educating your patients.

2. Have your patients “teach it back” to you. While this may sound time-consuming, it’s honestly not and is a very effective patient education tool to have in your toolbox. In particular, the “teach it back” method is best utilized to confirm your patient’s understanding of more complex conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma.

3. Utilize professionally generated resources within your office. There are a number of high-quality, inexpensive resources available to supplement your educational efforts. Whether you use in-office videos, educational pamphlets or online resources, providing your patients with supplementary information on various conditions and management options can really help reinforce the information you’re providing them throughout their exam.

4. Keep your discussion at an elementary school level. This can be a lot more difficult than it sounds! The truth is, we’re all trained at such a high level that it’s easy to overlook the many times we educate our patients with concepts that are completely over their heads. To avoid confusion, make a conscious effort to simplify the words and phrases you’re using down to those you’d use with a second-grader. You’ll be surprised how receptive your patients will be and can always shift gears towards more detailed information for those patients who admit to having prior subject knowledge.

Whether you practice in a big city or out in the country, it’s never safe to assume what your patients really know about their overall health. Even a highly educated professional with a master’s degree or Ph.D. can have very little background knowledge when it comes to their healthcare. By keeping things simple, you’re creating a comfortable office environment that will foster genuine discussion and increased compliance for years to come.


Dr. Ryan Corte graduated from the Ohio State University College of Optometry in 2012, followed by an optometric residency at the Illinois College of Optometry in 2013. He is co-founder of CovalentCareers.com and founder of IntroWellness.com, a business committed to transforming patient education. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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