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Educating Eyecare Patients Is Only Effective If They Have a Positive Reaction

If what you’re doing isn’t working, switch it up.




Educating Eyecare Patients Is Only Effective If They Have a Positive Reaction

SOMETIMES AN “A-HA” moment presents in unlikely places. I’ve always been interested in a topic that I don’t feel gets enough attention in optometry school – patient communication. Doctors are taught to thoroughly educate the patient, but as many ODs will attest, sharing information with patients doesn’t always lead to improved outcomes. Sometimes a patient politely nods their head but ultimately ignores your professional recommendation. Sharing education only guarantees you’re giving patients the information; effective communication increases the chances people will do what you recommend.

So, back to that “a-ha” moment … I met late night comedian Seth Meyers once. Well, not really. I got to watch him practice the monologue for that night’s show, and I think he looked directly at me once. Does that count?

My wife and I were visiting NBC Studios in New York when someone handed us a pair of tickets to watch Seth Meyers rehearse and refine that night’s monologue. Before choosing about 12 jokes, they present roughly 100 in rapid succession to a live audience and monitor the reactions and laughter. It sounded interesting, so we went.

At the start, Seth told the audience, “You’d think by now we’d know what was funny, but we don’t.” While he was telling the jokes, his team of writers was in the corner observing and furiously scribbling notes.

Some jokes were hilarious, others completely bombed. Crickets. But it didn’t faze him. They were just collecting data. When he finished the last joke, the writers quickly exited the studio to compare notes and finalize that night’s monologue.

I kept thinking about the writers not knowing what kind of reaction each joke would get until they tried it. From my own experience with public speaking, I can relate as I’ve occasionally worked a joke into a presentation that sounded hilarious in my head but fell flat with the audience. That’s a lonely feeling by the way; I can understand why they do a trial run before going live.


This got me thinking that a similar approach could be applied in the exam room when communicating with patients. Try asking new questions or reframing current questions. Present a solution in a different way. Try different ways of educating patients. You can even try your hand at humor if you’re funny. Patients like doctors with a good sense of humor.

Then, monitor the results. Do patients seem more interested in what you’re saying? Does it enhance their understanding of something? Do you feel a greater connection with the patient? Does this lead to more patients purchasing glasses or a service you offer and recommend?

Spending time educating patients is only effective if it gets a positive reaction from the patient. Seth needed the laughs. Doctors need things like compliance, behavior change and motivation to invest in better vision.

Do your own research. When you find something that works, keep doing it. If it isn’t working, switch it up. It seems to work for comedians. Maybe it will work for doctors too?

Steve Vargo, OD, MBA, is a published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, who now serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant. Since transitioning to a full-time practice management consultant, Dr. Vargo has performed over 3,000 consultations and coaching sessions with hundreds of independent optometry practices across the country. He has also authored four books on the subjects of staff management, leadership, selling and having greater influence as a physician. Email him at [email protected]


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