I know what I look for in a general practitioner. I want to be heard. I want to know that I have the attention of my doctor and feel comfortable that my treatment plan isn’t based on generalities and assumptions. I want to be able to ask questions and get honest answers. I like when doctors dig into my concerns — ask pointed questions and make connections. I like when a doctor can speak directly and with confidence but still understand that decisions I make about my healthcare are mine to make. Guilt trips break trust. “I told you so” rarely works.

I know a lot of this sounds trivial but I feel that as optometrists we tend to get into a routine and think we have the answers even before doing the exam. I’d argue we need the entire length of the exam to gather data and win the  patient’s trust. They may decide to wait until the end to tell you something or not feel comfortable until then or not find relevance in something quite important because they were not asked. They have to trust us and we them. That can only happen with candid conversation, relatable experiences, and genuine interest.

Talk. It’s not rocket science. Ask your patients questions — not just for the sake of coming to a diagnosis or selling glasses. Really ask them what they do, what they want and what they may struggle with. Be inquisitive. Be interested. Make eye contact. Don’t type and listen at the same time. Ask follow up questions. Show empathy when you can. Be relatable. Identify your own weaknesses and passions. Be human. Are there challenges they face that they don’t want to do anything about? They should feel comfortable talking with you about them and knowing that you hear them and can put those concerns on a shelf until they’re ready to address them. Let them know that everything discussed is a decision you will make together. Make sure they’re comfortable knowing you will always make your educated recommendations but are open to other treatment strategies depending on what works for them.  Really convince them that you are on their side and you are not interested in just making a buck. They need to feel safe. Then, they will ultimately know that what you suggest is genuine, informed and relevant because you took the time to talk to them. That is all they want. They want to feel that during their time with you, the only thing on your mind was their situation and concerns.

Ask questions like you would of a friend or a family member. Be their advocate. Revel in their successes. Join them in their setbacks. What they are telling you usually has to do with more than just their eyes.  Talk and listen. In the end, you’ll have a patient for life.

Dr. Shimul Y. Shah graduated from the University of Michigan in 1994 and The Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1999. Currently settled in Columbus, OH, she has owned Marysville Family Vision in Marysville, OH, for the last five years. Follow the practice on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (@MFamilyVis) to get an inside look at the optical and Quincy the hedgehog. 


This article originally appeared in the March 2018 edition of INVISION.   

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