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ACCORDING TO A 2018 study by the National Poll on Healthy Aging, one in 10 older adults believed it was important to get an eye exam every one to two years but had not done so in three or more. With 22% of the U.S. population expected to be 65 or older by 2050, it’s a market you can’t afford to ignore. Your practice may be confident in its ability to treat age-related macular degeneration, dry eye, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, but in an age where good service is too often conflated with the latest tech, it’s important that your team nurture the skills needed to ensure that older clients — who may not be impressed by, or might even be averse to, gadgetry and social media — are helped through every process with empathy and understanding. Here are some of the ways ECPs told us they elevate the eyecare experience of their senior patients.

SCHEDULING

When asked by INVISION about catering to seniors, ECPs stressed the importance of allowing more time for each exam and of scheduling follow-up appointments. “We always schedule anyone over 75 for a longer appointment, like a new patient exam. Try not to schedule them as the last patient of the day. We have a great amount of elderly patients and … allow them the extra time they need,” says Kim Hilgers at Akre & Clark Eyecare in New Ulm, MN. Dr. Sarah Brozzo of Harrison Eye Care in Harrison, MI agrees. “Elderly patient care requires patience. We try to put a cap on how many patients over a certain age we will see in a day, to make sure we don’t get burnt out and skimp on the extra time required to provide quality care. There is often a lot of confusion, so we do everything we can to make sure elderly patients understand their options and get what features they want, not just what is profitable,” she says.

At Vision Center South in Dothan, AL, doctors push hard for patients to continue the medical follow-ups and will run all of their diagnostic testing on the same visit, if need be, says optical manager Colby Spivey. The team at Spring Hill Eye Care in Spring Hill, TN tries to schedule seniors mid-morning or early afternoon. “This seems to better accommodate their schedules,” says office manager Melanie Jenkins. According to Dr. Adam Ramsey early mornings work best at Socialite Vision in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

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THE EXAM LANE

Dr. Scott Mann at Invision in Christiansburg, VA, says chairside digital imaging in each exam room is helpful, especially in showing patients their cataracts. “This picture is worth 1,000 words and lets them see why their vision is blurry, and how we can help manage the issue for them.” Wheelchair lanes and moveable phoropters should be considered by any practice catering to seniors. At Spring Hill Eyecare, “Our techs all are so gentle and kind speaking to the elderly patients and assisting them throughout special testing and procedures in pre-test, explaining what will be happening and why the test is being performed,” says Jenkins. Spring Hill’s optical manager Amie Robinson says great staff training is a huge bonus with this group. “Just as there are team members who enjoy working with kids, there are those that enjoy elderly patients — make sure they get put together. Seniors often have more questions and issues and a staff that can handle these saves doctor time.”

COMMUNICATION, ‘PAPERWORK’
AND GENERAL ACCESSIBILITY

When it comes to communicating, older patients don’t necessarily equate tech with convenience. “We ask their preferred method of communication,” says Robinson. Adds Jenkins: “When the patient arrives if they are unable to maneuver through paperwork on the iPad, we have someone who will sit and go through it with them or give them a paper copy if they prefer and assist with that.”

At Family Vision Care in Alma, GA, “We’re a fan of personal reminder calls. It’s a nice touch and avoids aggravating seniors with multiple robo calls, which they’re already slammed with,” says Dr. Blake Hutto.

“I specialize in low vision so I have a lot of elderly patients,” says Dr. Laura Miller at Northwest Hills Eye Care in Austin, TX. “I designed my office with high contrast — light walls with dark doors — and flooring is a tough vinyl in order to take on all of the walkers. We have large print paperwork for patients. I also have a hearing specialist that comes into my office twice a week because if you can’t see, you need to be able to hear your best!”

Some other aspects to consider: Do you have ramps? Do all the chairs in your waiting rooms have arms? Is accessing your lobby or entrance easy, and are there team members readily available to escort patients in and out to prevent them from getting confused or lost? Are tables tall enough to accommodate wheelchairs?

MEDICARE & AFFORDABILITY

If you’re seeing a lot of seniors, make sure the Medicare process runs as efficiently as possible. Says Hutto at Family Vision Care: “We offer Medicare counseling. Medicare advantage plans and the like are mostly terrible options for seniors but are being pushed as their saving grace. We take time to walk patients through options and rely on local, honest reps for help.” Ramsey at Socialite Vision takes Medicare and usually doesn’t schedule them Q1 so their deductible is met elsewhere.

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At Family Vision Center in Westminster, CO, the largest demographic is 60+. According to Heather Aites, “We take Medicare and all supplements, which helps drive them to our office. We offer lower cost packages for patients on budgets and try to see them every three to six months for any medical conditions, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc. Since we see them more often than our regular annual exam patients, we give them a bit more service and care. We tend to their eyewear more often and remind them to tell their friends and family about us.”

OUTCALLS / DELIVERIES

“We do mobile optometry and go out to nursing homes,” says Jade Kowalick at Ryczek Eye Associates in St. Petersburg, FL, adding that a room in the office is set up the same way as the mobile unit to accommodate wheelchairs.

“We will visit patients in retirement homes and nursing facilities. Military retirement centers are a great place to see patients,” says BJ Chambers at Carrera Optical in Universal City, TX. “I have been known to personally go to a nursing home to adjust glasses,” says Star Taylor at Richens Eye Center in St George, UT.

IN THE OPTICAL

Explaining eyewear options to seniors is a special skill set. “I speak calmly, and with a knowledgeable tone. I don’t try to upsell or switch them out of a style they love. If they are comfortable and confident they come back year after year,” says Mallory Haun, lab manager at MetroSpecs Optical Shop in Fayetteville, NC.

Never prejudge an individual senior’s preferences, though. “Make no assumptions they don’t want to be on trend because of their age,” says Paula Hornbeck at Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI. Adds Dave Goodrich at Goodrich Optical in Holt, MI: “Take the time to educate them on new technologies. I’ve fitted many seniors that previously rejected PALs in new free-form designs; I’ve yet to see anyone go back to flat tops.”

Pablo Mercado at Highland Eye Boutique in Atlanta, GA keeps everything as simple as possible. “Not because elderly patients are stupid, but because they respond better to an explanation of the benefit of the product offered —‘This treatment will make it easier for you to see at night,’ ‘These lenses will work better with your prescription.’”

LISTENING

No senior care skill is as important as the ability to listen. “Make sure they feel heard,” says Jennifer Leuzzi at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY. “It starts with their call to schedule and goes from there. Listening is the number one skill you need. I have a small shop and several older people stop by just to fill some time during their lonely day.”

Dr. Robert Easton in Oakland Park, FL says, “Most of my patients have grown older with me. So as a senior myself I believe taking your time in the history, in the exam, and in the plan discussion is key to help seniors in their eyecare needs.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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