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Real Deal

Is It Okay for a Staff Member to Refuse to Serve a Specific Patient for Personal Reasons?

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A staff person has a personal issue with a patient. Where does the manager draw the line?

Gina, the managing optometrist of Oxford Optics, was busy creating next week’s staff schedule when Bonnie knocked on her door. “Do you have a minute?” asked Bonnie.

Gina waved the receptionist in and cleared her desk. “What’s up?”

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

NATALIE TAYLOR is an experienced optometry practice manager for Advanced Care Vision Network and a consultant with Taylor Vision. Learn more at tayloreye.com.

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“I was looking at tomorrow’s schedule and saw that my ex-sister-in-law, Justine, made a new-patient appointment,” said Bonnie. Gina could hear rage in her voice.

Gina nodded for her to continue, not really understanding what Bonnie was saying.

“I just can’t be here. I haven’t seen her in a year, and there’s just no way I can be professional,” she said.

“Oh,” said Gina, bewildered. “Well, we don’t have coverage for tomorrow. Nicole’s on vacation. We need a receptionist to function.”

“It’s just for the morning. I’ll go get coffee — her appointment is at 8:45 and when she’s gone I’ll come right back,” pleaded Bonnie.

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“Did you already try to find coverage?” Gina asked.

“The opticians think they can manage to do both departments for a few hours,” Bonnie replied.

Gina shook her head slowly. “I’m sorry Bonnie, I have a really heavy schedule tomorrow and I can’t have prescriptions walk because our optician was busy doing your job.”

Bonnie’s face dropped and she stood up. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said vaguely, and stepped out of the office.

Later, Gina shared her conversation with the practice owner, Phil.

“Justine? As in, the woman who caused Bonnie’s divorce?” he asked. Their village, a few hours east of Shreveport, LA, was tight-knit; everyone knew everyone’s business.

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“I guess so?” Gina was at a social disadvantage, being a recent transplant from Texas.

“I wonder why she’d do that. I guess to get under Bonnie’s skin,” Phil said. “I mean, Bonnie’s been with me almost 20 years; it’s no secret she works here.”

“Well, I’m sure everyone will survive. It isn’t like they’ll ever be alone together,” said Gina.

The next morning was busy; Gina had half-forgotten the whole thing by the time she got to Justine’s exam room. Justine was pleasant, but stopped Gina cold when she asked, “Does Bonnie still work here?”

“What do you mean?” asked Gina. “Didn’t she check you in at the front desk?”

“No, it was someone wearing a lab coat,” said Justine.

“She still works here,” said Gina blandly. “I’ve been so busy back here I wasn’t aware she had called out.”

“Well, let her know I said hello,” Justine said with a slight edge to her voice.

Gina smiled and returned to refracting, seething. After the exam, she escorted Justine to the front desk, where one of the opticians was juggling a phone call and a patient trying to check in. Gina helped to get Justine out the door and then told the optician to call Bonnie to tell her to return to the office. Then, trying to decide what to do about her MIA receptionist, she went to talk to Phil.

The Big Questions

  • Is it acceptable for a staff person to refuse to work with a patient?
  • How should Gina discipline Bonnie for leaving without permission?
  • Justine may return to the office for eyewear, an eye injury, or other issues. Should Gina ask her to find another provider?

Expanded Reader Responses

Michelle W.
STOCKBRIDGE, GA 

From what I understand, Bonnie has been at the practice for almost 20 years? If a 20 year team member came to me to talk about a situation, I’m going to listen.

  1. If someone has been a GOOD employee for 20 years, again, I would listen. If the situation is upsetting to my 20 year team member, I would accept her removing herself from the situation.
  2. The problem is Gina. Gina was insensitive to Bonnie’s situation. While it is important to be professional at all times, I do not believe it is right to subject a team member to this unnecessary stress. Shame on Gina for not listening to Bonnie. If she has never left without permission in the past, it should speak volumes of the stress she was feeling.
  3. I would not ask Justine to seek another provider. I would put an alert on her file or EHR to make Bonnie aware and to schedule her when another person can be at the front.
Barbara B.
MT. STERLING, OH

Bonnie has been with the practice for 20 years so obviously she is a good employee. Unless she was constantly asking to have time off due to certain patients, Gina should have trusted Bonnie’s decision and allowed her to not be present at the front while Justine was in the office. Possibly she could have answered phones from a private area. The opticians may have been inconvenienced for a little while, but had Bonnie called in “sick” for the day they would have been inconvenienced even more.

I also think Phil should have encouraged Gina to work around this situation for Bonnie. He’s obviously aware of Bonnie’s past issues with Justine and since Gina is his employee, as well, he could have “suggested” that she consider Bonnie’s request this one time even without going into detail.

Justine may return at some point, but perhaps Bonnie will be more emotionally ready to deal with the situation then.

Pablo M.
WOODSTOCK, GA

This is one of the perils we face when we work with the public. Gina could discipline Bonnie for leaving without permission, only to have her quit; and then being left without an otherwise valuable staff member. Or, make Bonnie work with Justine regardless of their history and have a cat fight in an office full of patients. Or, (my preferred option) have Justine to come in when Bonnie is not around. If the issue is that Justine wants to come in just to have an excuse to have a confrontation, then she needs to be seen elsewhere.

Christine H.
ATTLEBORO, MA

I’ve been in a similar situation where I’ve had an individual that I’ve had issues with socially become a patient at my practice. If possible, I’ve asked if the other optician would mind assisting that patient, but that’s not always an option. While awkward and difficult at times, I’ve always remained calm and professional reminding myself to “kill them with kindness.”

Vlad C.
HACKENSACK, NJ

Bonnie has a good reason to want to stay away from Justine. Gina should have another conversation with Bonnie. If I were Gina, I wouldn’t discipline Bonnie severely. Employees like to feel like we have their backs. I would’ve offered Bonnie the opportunity to come in late that day.

William C.
ATLANTA, GA

An employee’s personal life should not come into play in the work place. You may not be excited or pleased but showing your professionalism is the right path in this or any hectic unwanted situation.

Bonnie’s outright disregard for the instructions given to her from management should be met with termination. She voiced her dislike but leaving the office due to her opinion of an individual caused an unneeded hardship on the other employees. Her blatant disregard and lack of respect for the management team should not be tolerated.

Gina should not be the deciding factor on if the patient should return to the office. The patient Justine has created no issues in the office and should not be the one punished for Gina’s feelings about her.

Pamela M.
Highland, CA

It is most certainly appropriate for a staff person to refuse to work with a patient – in this case, special circumstances existed; she gave advance notice; the practice owner knew the history. Gina was only the managing optometrist and had been put on notice both by the employee and the owner doctor.
This is not a case of being absent from the job without notice – frankly the employee could have just called in sick which would have been a lit. Instead, she gave the managing OD a heads up – everyone knew in advance. Let the managing OD seethe – she was given both fair warning and the circumstances behind it. And she probably needs to get a life and start understanding what transpires in an office. Would she have been forced to examine a patient under the same circumstances? I think not. In this instance, the employee was valued, long term, and had a legitimate concern.

Tracy G.
Hatboro, PA

In a perfect world, our employees would have no baggage, every day would be Friday, and dogs would be allowed to come to work with us. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. Fact is, if a long-time, reliable employee who is good, if not great, at their job ends up having an issue with a pt, then guess what boss– you do too. Denying an employee the opportunity to excuse themselves from a potentially stress inducing confrontation is just bad business, plus, who needs that drama in their busy office? You have to trust your staff and respect it when they say that this will not be something they can handle. Respect them and they will respect you, ignore their plea for help in situations like this and you will probably end up short staffed for the day and possibly damage the employer/employee relationship for the future.

Angel M.
Cynthiana, KY

Sometimes, it is impossible to be professional. We aren’t robots, after all. 

Bonnie tried to fix the problem, and Gina should have listened. Bonnie wasn’t asking for the whole day, just the time of Justine’s exam. Sure we opticians can be socially awkward, but we can multi-task when needed. 

When Phil explained everything to her, Gina should have contacted Bonnie and permitted her to be away. 

We have had similar instances here, and we always look out for each other in our small town. 

Gina really dropped the ball; not listening to a valued and long time employee’s problem showed a lack of empathy.

Bad blood in a small town can be serious. Hadn’t Gina ever seen “Hot Fuzz”?

Cindy H.
Hixson, TX

Frankly I got a little irritated with Bonnie just reading this. Keep your personal life and issues away from work. Small town or not this is a business and her behavior is inexcusable. Be a professional and do your job. Her leaving was at best insubordination and she be treated as such.

Martha D.
Wheatfield, IN

First of all, it is never acceptable to leave your office in the lurch because of a personal problem. You have to remain professional no matter what your personal feelings are. There has been many times I have seen someone on staff leave the rest of the office short staffed because they would hide or leave rather than deal with a difficult patient. There comes a time when you just have to screw a smile on your face and suck it up. It is not your other patients or staffs problem. Bonnie should at least get a verbal warning. She was told they couldn’t spare her but she left anyway. Gina should at least have a sit down with Bonnie and explain to her, that while she is a good receptionist, leaving without permission, is totally unacceptable. This won’t be the first time someone came in she didn’t want to deal with and it won’t be the last.

Vicki K.
Waco, TX

I realize that this is a professional setting and you should leave personal stuff at home. Let’s get real — life comes into play no matter were you are. I would speak with Bonnie about the leaving and let her know that this was unprofessional and that she needs to understand that. Then I would flag Justine’s file for the office personnel and make sure that Bonnie did not have to interact with the patient. Some matters are just too far gone to try and just confront them. Bonnie has been with the office for a long time and the whole town and office understand the situation. So should Gina. Eventually things may change and the situation will diffuse, but why take the chance that this could blow up in front of the patients? A little effort would go a long way to maintaining a calm and smooth running office.

Pam P.
Downers Grove, IL

If a patient makes a staff member uncomfortable personally, then the staff member might have some ground to request to be reassigned temporarily. Bonnie acknowledged that she would not be able to maintain professionalism with this individual, with a 20-year record behind her, acknowleging this one circumstance was something she was trying to do in the best interest of the practice. Before disciplining Bonnie, Gina should verify that perhaps the dr, who seemed to understand the situation, did not approve Bonnie’s temporary escape. While I’m sure it was a little hectic while she was in the office, Bonnie’s teammates willingess to cover for her says a lot about how they view her and wanted to help her. With the small town scenario, possibly the doctor or office manager could approach Gina to ask why she wanted to be seen in this office knowing Bonnie was there. For a 20-year, high-performing employee, I might support them over the potential new patient.


This article originally appeared in the June 2017 edition of INVISION.

 

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Real Deal

A Patient Pushes an Optician to Bend the Rules. Is This A Gray Area Or Are They Committing Fraud?

The case of the fraudulent filing

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COLIN WAS STRESSED. His coworker had called out an hour before her shift, leaving him to run the optical floor solo. Two patients were already moving through the frame boards when a tech escorted Dr. Tam out of an exam room and over to Colin.

ABOUT REAL DEAL
  • Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
  • NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at info@meredithoptical.com

Dr. Tam was a local general practitioner. Colin was relatively new to the Utah practice but he had already met Dr. Tam during his son’s eye exam.

“Nice to see you again,” said Colin, pumping the doctor’s hand. “Did your prescription change?”

“My reading power is being bumped up,” said Dr. Tam amicably. “I’ll get new progressives; you have my insurance information?”

“I do! I’m working with a few other people, but I’ll do my best to get you out of here quickly,” promised Colin. “I’ve got five frames pulled for you to start, see what you think and I’ll be right back.” After checking in with the first two patients, Colin bounded over to the reception station and pulled benefit printouts from Dr. Tam’s chart. When he came back Dr. Tam was already seated at an optical station.

“I like these,” he said, clasping one of the pairs Colin had selected, “and I want to order these Maui Jim sunglasses under my son Richard’s insurance plan. Do you remember him? He was in last month.”

Colin sat across from Dr. Tam and used a nearby laptop to look up the boy’s information. “It looks like he wasn’t given a prescription at his exam. Your insurance plan has a minimum prescription requirement to pay for the sunglasses,” Colin explained.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Dr. Tam, reaching into his breast pocket. He pulled out a prescription pad and, in front of Colin, wrote out a prescription for his son. “It needs to be a half-diopter, right?”

Colin nodded numbly, and awkwardly took the script when Dr. Tam handed it to him. “I need to take his measurements…”

“Just use what you have from last year,” said Dr. Tam. “It’s tough to get him in, between everyone’s busy schedules.” Sure enough, Colin found an entry in the EHR for another pair of Maui Jim sunglasses. Colin priced out the orders, took measurements and escorted Dr. Tam to reception to collect his copays.

Later that afternoon Colin found time to enter Dr. Tam’s orders. However, when he entered the authorization number that the front desk had pulled he found it was actually for Dr. Tam’s son – Richard Tam Jr. Dr. Tam’s benefit wasn’t available until the first of next month.

Colin immediately called the number on file for Dr. Tam. His wife answered their home’s landline and Colin explained the situation. “I can hold the order for three weeks and then process the exact day his benefit resets?” Colin offered.
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“No, no,” said Mrs. Tam. “He’s been complaining for weeks, I don’t want to delay. I’ll just give you my credit card.”

Colin rushed the two orders but it was weeks before Dr. Tam finally came back for his dispense.

“Oh, these are great!” said Dr. Tam enthusiastically, studying the near vision card with his new progressives.

Colin beamed. “Did you bring your son? I was going to adjust his sunglasses for him.”
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Dr. Tam chuckled. “Well, they’re really for me,” he shared. “Of course I’ll share them with him if he wants, but I need them when I’m wearing my contact lenses, and I lost last year’s pair.”

“Ah,” Colin nodded. “And I assume your wife told you she ended up paying for your glasses since you weren’t eligible?”

“Yes, it reset this past Monday, right?” asked Dr. Tam. “Just give me the invoice with Monday’s date and I’ll submit it.”

“I don’t think we’re allowed to change the date,” said Colin. “Technically the insurance company considers that fraud.”

Dr. Tam scoffed. “If anyone gives you a hard time, you just have them call me,” he replied.

The Big Questions

  • If you were Colin, would you have done anything differently when discovering Dr. Tam’s eligibility was incorrect?
  • Assuming Colin is physically able to revise the EHR to date the order to the first of the month, should he provide the invoice for Dr. Tam to submit his claim?
  • Would you dispense the sunglasses, or return them, accept the loss, and report Dr. Tam for fraud?

 

Maureen G. Oak Park, IL

Didn’t Colin look at the name on the benefit sheet?! And seriously who would order anything based on a script a patient wrote out? I would have said, “I am sorry I need a valid doctor Rx, otherwise it’s not valid and I can lose my job over it.” We always have the sheet printed out with the patient’s name and benefits eligible highlighted. Colin sounds like a pushover; we have had patients who want to use their frame benefit for plano sunglasses and our answer is always, “No, that’s committing fraud.” I can’t believe any ethical optometrist would endanger his practice by agreeing to do this.

Rigo L. Indio, CA

Let me start by saying we all “bend” the rules from time to time for some of our “VIP” patients. That being said there is a line to draw when bending the rules becomes fraud or feels wrong. As opticians we feel that any professional that walks into our office will always do the right thing. So when doctor Tam wrote an Rx for his son I would have told him that I didn’t feel comfortable filling the Rx, even though I knew what he was doing, and that I would rather talk it over with our doctor. At this point he would have to understand that something smelled fishy. When he asked to change the date, I would be frank with him and just say that I would not feel right doing that. If you bend the rules one time the patient expects the same the following year. Sometimes it’s just best not to do things, no matter who the patient is.

Peter N. Belfast, ME

This case is not uncommon. The simple answer to somebody who asks you to lie to the insurance company is: “Do you want me to lie to you?” The answer is usually, “No.” Then you can say, “I’m not going to lie to your insurance company either.”

Lynn M. Fallston, MD

1) I would have done the exact same thing with the eligibility date. If the patient’s wife chose to pay I would take payment and proceed with the order.
2) I would NOT change the date in our EHR to facilitate insurance fraud. Not happening!!
3) I wouldn’t dispense the glasses…BUT it never would’ve gotten that far because….I never would’ve taken the Rx from a GP to begin with. Is that even legal??

Preet K. New York, NY

I’d explain to Dr. Tam that the practice can get audited at any given time, and this is considered insurance fraud. I would offer a discount on a second pair. Colin should not have accepted the Rx written by Dr. Tam as it is an unethical action taken by Dr. Tam. If the doctor who examined Tam Jr. didn’t prescribe any Rx, Colin should follow that. Ask Dr. Tam to reach out to the insurance to find his options to process the sunglasses order or offer to make the phone call on Dr. Tam’s behalf. (This shows customer service.) If Dr. Tam is uncooperative, call the insurance and inform them about Dr. Tam writing the Rx for Tam Jr. Colin shouldn’t change the DOS for the private-pay order even if the EHR system gives him the ability to. Have the patient discuss this with his insurance as well. I wouldn’t recommend processing the sunglasses order unless Dr. Tam follows the right steps. Document everything. Have Dr. Tam sign a liability form, which protects the practice from auditing.
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Kate G. Arlington, VA

Fraud is fraud. Why sully your reputation?

Amelia B. Charleston, SC

Insurance fraud is any act committed to defraud an insurance process. This occurs when a claimant attempts to obtain some benefit or advantage they are not entitled to, or when an insurer knowingly denies some benefit that is due.

Theresa W. Austin, TX

Graciously, the optician should have advised the patient that the prescribing physician had not provided a script for his son, so unfortunately the sunglasses would not be covered by insurance. The optician then should ask, “How do you wish to proceed?” There can never be an exception for fraud.

Daniel M. Rockaway, NY

Of course he should not do any of those things. It is considered fraud and he risks at least his participation in the plan if not the license of the practitioner itself.

Genna L. Milwaukee, WI

Colin did the right thing by attempting to contact Dr. Tam. However, it’s important to speak directly with the patient when they’re responsible for their own care. Speaking with Dr. Tam would’ve given Colin an opportunity to assertively avoid possible fraud and any consequences of it. It would’ve been 100 percent wrong for Colin to modify the invoice date to comply with Dr. Tam’s request. Had the claim been audited, the insurance company would’ve found evidence of fraud in everything from the copay dates to material order dates. Dr. Tam, as a medical practitioner, is required to acknowledge that he understands insurance fraud and its consequences, and as such he should not be instructing other health care providers to commit fraud on his behalf. Were I in Colin’s situation, I would suspect Dr. Tam of committing fraud at his own practice, and would absolutely report Dr. Tam and accept a loss on the materials I ordered, knowing that I did the right thing.

Judy C. Virginia Beach, VA

1) Colin did the right thing by calling immediately when the issue arose.
2) NO! Changing dates on a receipt or in patient records is fraud. This is not a “gray area” in my opinion. Unless the offending doctor owns the insurance company, he doesn’t have any clout with them either.
3) Dispense the eyewear and note the conversation in his record. I would also make the practice owner aware of what his patient requested and that he stated that it was done for him in the past at the practice. Let the doctors discuss the issue. Neither Colin nor any other staff members should have to be caught in the middle of this.

Stewart G. San Francisco, CA

1) NO
2) NO
3) I would make him pay for them—nothing more, nothing less. If he refused, I’d send him to collection, AND I’d dismiss him as a patient.

Taylor K. Ellington, CT

1) Colin handled the situation appropriately when he discovered the eligibility issue—he called the patient immediately. HOWEVER, the first issue really arose when the patient wrote his own prescription. We would not have filled the Rx, as it was not valid. Regardless, Colin should have accepted the wife’s credit card for the full charge amount without insurance and continued with the job.
2) I would assume most systems, like ours, allow for date change on the invoice. However, of course, this is fraud and Colin should not do this.
3) I would have dispensed the sunglasses, as they should have already been paid for in full by the wife. I would advise Dr. Tam he can do what he wishes with the invoices, but that the office cannot and will not change any posting dates as it is fraud.

Bob S. St. Louis, MO

I wonder if Dr. Tam is as loose with insurance policy in his office as he expects Colin to be. While technically he did nothing illegal by writing an Rx for his son, it was an ethically reprehensible thing for a healthcare professional to do. Even worse, he expected Colin to risk his job and the reputation of his company by performing an illegal act. Again, I wonder if it is a standard operating procedure to falsify records in HIS office. If I remember nothing else from optometry school, one thing will be forever ingrained in my mind: “Never change a record. Put a line through the original information, insert the correction, initial and date it.” It’s a digital world now but the advice is still as relevant as in the good old (paper) days.

Leisa L. Newport Beach, CA

Dr. Tam’s eligibility should have been checked before the order was taken for his new glasses. However, since Colin notified Dr. Tam indirectly through his wife the order became a private order and was paid accordingly. The receipt date should not be changed to appease Dr. Tam. In regard to dispensing the Maui Jim sunglasses, Colin submitted the order with the proper Rx information provided for Dr. Tam’s son Richard with the required measurements from Richard’s chart. Technically it should be said that Richard is sharing the glasses with his father, not the other way around. This is one of those areas that is stretching the system by Dr. Tam; Colin was following the Rx provided by Dr. Tam for his son.

Judith W. Orange, CA

No, we do not change invoice dates; that is fraud plain and simple and no patient is worth the legal problems. As far as notifying the patient of his options of waiting till the first of the month or paying for the glasses, that is our standard policy. As far as making glasses without having a proper written prescription—either our own (from records) or from another OD or OMD—we would not do it. We do not feel that a primary MD can give a complete comprehensive eye exam, especially if he is just writing out what is necessary for insurance coverage

Jennifer Torrance, CA

I would have discussed all this with management first to see what options they wanted me to proceed with. If those options comprised my morals or ethics, I would then proceed to remind management that we have an obligation to not just the patients but to the practice and employees to make sure we have a secure livelihood by following the rules. If we continue to bend the rules, we will go down a path of no return and will be held hostage by patients that know we shouldn’t be doing this.

What’s the Brain Squad?

  • If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Continue Reading

Real Deal

A Difficult Teenager, Absent Parents and Unacceptable Behavior … Kick the Kid Out or No?

This office wants to show a pre-teen the door – should mitigating circumstances change their minds?

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IT WAS LATE MORNING and patient care was in full swing at a large optometry practice in Detroit. Doctors and technicians hustled patients between rooms, and the phone rang incessantly.

ABOUT REAL DEAL
  • Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
  • NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at info@meredithoptical.com

Technician Carol headed to reception to call in the next patient, 15-year-old Jennie. “Do you have a parent with you?” asked Carol, scanning the room. “My dad dropped me off,” she replied flatly. “It’s fine.” Carol shrugged and led Jennie to pretest. She began reciting her script of instructions, but Jennie threw her off quickly. “Is this the puff of air?” she asked dramatically. “No,” said Carol, “like I just said, it’s an auto refractor, it’s just a picture. Nothing is going to touch you.” Jennie was clearly skeptical, and kept pulling her head away from the forehead rest. Carol worked hard to convince Jennie to keep her head still, but only captured one good reading in each eye. She didn’t bother asking Jennie to use the non-contact tonometer, and escorted her straight to an exam room. That’s when Carol’s challenges really began.

Jennie refused to disclose her health history or medications, left the room twice to use the restroom, and repeatedly challenged Carol’s competency. Twenty-five minutes later Carol still hadn’t completed Jennie’s work-up. Saying she needed something from another room, Carol found a quiet place down the hall and took a minute to collect herself. When she returned, she immediately noticed the 90D and 20D lenses were missing from their regular places. She wrapped up the exam and found office manager Ed. “I think my patient is trying to steal from the exam room,” she whispered. Ed frowned and followed her into the exam room. “Hi Jennie, I’m Ed the manager,” he said, standing in the doorway. “Can you please check your pockets and backpack for anything that might belong to our doctors?” Jennie scoffed, her neck and arms erupting in hives. Time seemed to stand still. “Screw you!” she eventually yelled at Carol, who threw her arms up in exasperation. The exchange drew Dr. Cox out of her exam room. “What’s going on?” she asked Ed. As she neared, something hard struck the back of her hand. She yelped in pain as a 90D lens hit the floor then rolled fast along the baseboard. Dr. Cox looked up to see Jennie palming the 20D, a look of shock on her face. “I didn’t mean to hit you!” she said, clearly scowling at Carol. Panicking, she dropped the lens and grabbed her coat. “Move,” she said, and Ed finally cleared the doorway. Jennie flew around the corner and out the front door.

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Dr. Cox motioned Ed and Carol into the empty room and closed the door. First Carol, then Ed recounted the last half hour’s events, concluding with the same thought: “We have to fire her from the practice!”  Dr. Cox, gingerly massaging her hand, raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Jennie’s mom is my husbands’ boss,” she said slowly. “I am going to make a call after I get back on schedule, and we will figure this out.”

Hours later, Dr. Cox’s cell phone received a voicemail from Jennie’s mother. She explained how Jennie’s behavior over the last few months had been worrisome, and they were receiving assistance from a psychologist in addition to the pediatrician. She begged Dr. Cox to let Jennie return the next day to complete her exam, and promised to attend with her daughter.

The Big Questions

  • What considerations should a practice have when dismissing someone under 18 years old?
  • If Dr. Cox decides to allow Jennie back, the staff won’t be pleased. Is there a way to mitigate this?
  • At what point did Jennie cross the line, based on your office’s culture? Would you allow her to return?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Judy C. Virginia Beach, VA

The first problem was allowing an underage child to be seen without a parent or guardian in attendance. That’s should never be allowed. Additionally, I don’t see dismissing an underage patient without a consultation with the responsible adults. The staff may not be pleased, but that should not affect their professional performance. If it does, there is a bigger problem to be addressed. Jennie crossed the line when she refused to participate in the pre-test workup and she should only be allowed to return with a parent or guardian.

Stewart G. San Francisco, CA

Why was this patient seen without a legal aged family member? The patient should have been kept in the waiting room until the adult relation arrived and could be present during testing. This child is a thief. She could have also declared that the staff touched her inappropriately causing a lawsuit and a ruined career.

Dennis I. Monroe, CT

Our office is very specific towards seeing unaccompanied minors. NO! If it is a new patient; definitely not! If a new patient’s parent insists, then we discuss the nature of liability in these situations. That usually ends with the parent making the appointment when they are available. If it’s a patient that the office is familiar with, there may be exceptions, but the answer is most often if not always: NO. There is too much that we as physicians are responsible for and parents need to be… Parents. There is too much at stake to see an unaccompanied minor.

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Donna R. Mission, BC, Canada

I once had a patient threaten to punch me when I did the NCT on her. She yelled at me loud enough for the doctor to come out. She quickly tried apologizing and said I scared her. He opened the door to the office and said he would happily send her file to any other doctor she wanted. If you know your child is having issues then you make arrangements to accompany them to appointments. There is no excuse for theft. As for the husband’s boss connection, that’s an employee standards issues if they take it out on you.

Kinga B. St.Catharines, ON, Canada

Really the issue here is that she has behavioral issues, and I don’t think they would magically go away at 18, only the legal issues change. There should be a policy that minors of any age can be seen alone provided they can BEHAVE like an adult. The conversation should be had with the person booking the appointment at the time of the appointment and if not, then at the time of the reminder call. Perhaps an email of expected behavior could be sent to the parent or student, or simply stated that any behavior not allowed at school is also not allowed at the optometrist’s office. And it should outline the concentration they are expected to have so the exam can proceed. There should be an open door or 3rd party policy to prevent the allegations of sexual abuse also. The first time any child or teen shows up there could be a behavior agreement they have to sign. Most kids are fine but with the high rates of autism/Asperger’s and general behavioral issues, and the large number of frazzled parents who can’t take the time to accompany their kids, there has to be a line in the sand and the office needs to set expectations.

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Erin J. (From Facebook)

Bye, Jennie! The lip I could look past, and would let her come back with a parent at our earliest opening (usually about two weeks out). However… the thieving and assault on my staff? No. That behavior would get you banned from any business, and possibly charged. My business is no exception.

Rick R. Girard, PA

1. Why would the parents let her come alone knowing she had problems? There is a parental issue to deal with. 2. It’s Dr. Cox’s office so I don’t think the staff should be upset. If they are that’s another issue. It’s not like Jennie threatened violence. 3. She crossed the line by stealing. Whether she can return should be based on all available info and Dr. Cox’s decision. Because I sometimes stupidly believe the best in people, I would allow her to return.

Dr. Texas S. Citrus Heights, California

No minor should be examined without another adult present—ever! I would do the pre-screen myself on the next visit. During the exam I’d show her what bio lenses are for. I’d dilate her mom, put the bio on Jennie and have her look into her mom’s eye. I’d ask Jennie if she had questions and be sure she leaves with pens, a makeup mirror, and eyeball keychain, but not my bio lenses or lens clock (I’ve lost three in 50 years). If Jennie needs an Rx, have your most tech-savvy optician take pictures during frame selection. If she balks at these, drop it.

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Real Deal

Optician Wants to Ignore Part of Prescription — but Is That Her Right?

The doctor prescribed it for the customer; the optician said he’d hate it. Who wins?

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ABOUT REAL DEAL
  • Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
  • NATALIE TAYLOR is owner of Artisan Eyewear in Meredith, NH. She offers regional private practice consulting and ABO/COPE approved presentations. Email her at info@meredithoptical.com
  • KATE, AN OPTICIAN, and Mark, an optometrist, were partners with a practice in a trendy hamlet outside Atlanta. Mark’s undergrad college roommate Derek recently moved to town and he was invited in to see the office.

    “Kate, this is Derek,” said Mark. “He was interested in looking at glasses.”

    Derek grabbed Kate’s hand and pumped it enthusiastically. “I had an eye exam just before losing my coverage back in Texas but I held off on getting glasses because it usually takes me a few tries before they work,” he explained. “I have the prescription here,” he said, fumbling for his wallet.

    “Kate’s the best!” Mark gushed, playfully punching her in the bicep before grabbing his friends’ shoulders. “Let’s find you an awesome frame.”

    “What is your occupation, Derek?” asked Kate, unfolding the script.

    “I’m in marketing and advertising,” he replied.

    “He’s being modest, Kate,” said Mark. “He owns his own firm.” Mark leaned over and whispered: “He’ll be a great referral source for us!” Kate nodded her understanding, then stepped back as a tech came to retrieve Mark for his next patient. The two friends gave their goodbyes and Kate invited Derek to sit at the dispensing desk.

    Kate smoothed out the prescription on the table to examine it. “So, Derek, have you worn progressive lenses before?” she asked.

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    “I don’t think so, I just have these,” he said, pulling his glasses off his face and handing them to her. She examined them quickly—single vision. “They’re about four years old,” he continued. “I know I’ve needed to update them for a while.”

    “And are you having any double vision when you read?” she asked.

    “Double vision? No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I just don’t want to keep taking my glasses on and off. It makes me feel like an old man!”

    At the end of the day, Mark joined Kate in the optical lab to review Derek’s order.

    “The prescribing doctor made a note to include slab off,” Kate began. “It’s his first progressive; never had slab off. I want to make this without and see how he does.”

    Mark arched an eyebrow. “This doc in Texas prescribed slab off. You’d consider ignoring it?”

    “Of course,” replied Kate. “It’s not a part of the prescription; it’s a suggestion. I’m the optician, so I have to do what I think will work.”

    “Okay,” said Mark, “but why not call the doc and just ask?”

    “It doesn’t matter what they say, I don’t want to give this guy slab-off until I know a regular progressive won’t work,” insisted Kate.

    “What if I want to?” Mark shot back.

    “Are you going to dispense and do all the follow-up work when he hates them?” said Kate.

    The Big Questions

    • Who has the final say on using slab off—the prescribing doctor or the dispensing optician?
    • If Kate gets her way, is she obligated to disclose to Derek that she’s not following the prescribing doctor’s instructions?
    • If Mark wins the debate and the patient can’t adapt to slab off, should the additional expense be waived?
     
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    Expanded Real Deal Responses

    Ellie V.

    Janesville, WI

    1. The prescribing doctor has the final say on using slab off. If the optician went without it and the patient went back to the doctor for a re-check and finds out it wasn’t put on, the optician will have to answer to the doctor!
    2. Kate is obligated to disclose to Derek they are business partners, and not following the prescribed Rx could potentially be a liability if the patient has an accident or problems.
    3. Yes, the additional expense should be waived; it’s part of business to take care of the patients.

    Darrell L.

    Goodlettsville, TN

    While the slab off will address the vertical imbalance, there is no correction for anisometropia. Correcting image size with base curves will address both image size and vertical imbalance. Calling the prescribing doctor and requesting no slab off with base curve changes would be the correct way to address this patient’s problem. The optician is financially responsible for remakes and therefore should be allowed to do whatever it takes to correct the patient’s problem, yet consulting with the prescribing doctor will keep all parties involved happy.

    Annette P.

    Allen Park, MI

    She needs to make it to the doctor’s specific Rx or call the prescribing doctor before making. She doesn’t know the conversation in the exam room and the specific tests the prescribing doctor did to come up with that Rx.

    Howard C.

    Ferndale, MI

    Before making the new Rx I would first have Derek put on his glasses, have him tilt his head back and look through the bottom of his glasses at a near target letter and ask if he noticed any vertical diplopia. In addition, I would set up the new near Rx in a trial frame and do the same thing. If he notices any vertical double vision in either test, slab off is needed. If he does not, no slab off is needed. Taking the few minutes needed to do these tests would be worthwhile, providing a definitive answer and greatly reducing the need for a remake. The doctor should do the tests; he is the person to have the final say.

    Caitlin W.

    Montrose, CO

    I think it is a lens attribute — therefore it would be an optician decision. If the lenses are not working, generally labs will give you 60 days to make changes without charging the full lens amount again.

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    Micki L.

    Juno Beach, FL

    Call the prescribing doctor. If it was written on the Rx it is prescribed.

    Sugako A.

    Saint Louis, MO

    No slab off — try it as a regular progressive. If it doesn’t work, remake with slab off.

    Richard K.

    Lone Tree, CO

    In our practice, we take the view that when a patient moves/crosses state lines, that he now becomes our responsibility whether or not he is using our prescription or an out-of-state prescription. As “partners,” there should already be an understanding between Mark and Kate for issues like these before they crop up. As for the slab off, I don’t like to do them on PALs. It’s not that it won’t work, I just hate to put a line on a line-less product. Instead, I have my lab eliminate some of the equalizing prism on one lens to reduce the amount of vertical imbalance. Even though it doesn’t eliminate all the imbalance, it reduces it enough to keep the patient from experiencing double vision. In our state, it is considered a recommendation and I would not tell the patient one way or the other. It’s an easy calculation for the lab to do.

    Christopher B.

    Bergenfield, NJ

    With progressives, the bigger concern than a prism imbalance at near is image size differential. I would not slab a progressive unless I had a complaint from the client that they were getting diplopia at near in their progressive. The average person can adapt to a considerable prism imbalance. I would however choose the base curve and thickness so that image sizes between both lenses were closer to agreement. The optician is the final say on how the lens is manufactured. The doctor can suggest a certain brand of progressive, but it’s up to the optician and the client to decide which is best for them. I would explain to the client what slab off is, and that in this case I would not recommend that option, but if he experiences double vision when reading we may have to remake the lenses. This would be covered under most labs’ one-time remake policy, so I would waive any fees and not pass them on to the client.

    Peter N.

    Belfast, ME

    The optician should confer with the prescribing doctor to determine the purpose of the prescribed slab-off prism. If they concur that the prism may not be necessary, then the optician could try that route.
    If Kate gets her way, she should definitely divulge that information to the patient to keep him informed. This will also avoid having to backtrack.
    If Mark wins the debate and the slab-off prism is necessary, the extra fee should be waived. This person could bring many referrals to the business.

    Chani M.

    Highland Park, NJ

    First off, I would never outright ignore any element of a prescription written down on that legal piece of paper signed by the prescribing doctor. I would make a phone call to the prescribing doctor to discuss the slab off and see what his/her thought processes were when the slab off was prescribed. Depending on what transpires, I would always discuss with the patient the situation and explain that Dr. X prescribed “slab off” because he/she thinks it is best for said patient, and if it does not work we will re-evaluate the need for slab off with the patient and the prescribing doctor. Usually the lab will comp one redo, so that should not be an issue. It is important to be transparent when dealing with patients/consumers! Not disclosing information to patients can bite you in the butt.

    Rick R.

    Girard, PA

    Since they are partners there should be some dialogue about the slab off, but Kate should have the final say. After all, opticians deal with the aftereffects, not the doctors. And if Derek has dealt with this difference in Rx all his life, then going without the slab off is the right call.
    She definitely needs to be upfront about the decision, but should offer a full explanation as to why she made it in the first place.
    Waived or refunded? We require payment up front, so it wouldn’t be waived. If Derek wanted to try the slab off, and it didn’t work, I’d explain we’d remake the lenses at no charge.

    David Gilman

    Rutland, VT

    Call the doctor and tell him your view, and see what he says.
    Yes,if you tell the patient up front what you are doing to save him some money and it fails, then the do-over should only be the cost of the slab off and not the rest of the job.

    Stewart G.

    San Francisco, CA

    The doctor has the final say. The optician is incorrect; the instructions are part of the prescription, just as an OMD would write how often to take a medication.
    I would think so, because if it doesn’t work out without, and she has to put it in later, the patient may find out the prescription wasn’t followed and that’s a death knell for the practice.
    Why not call the doctor who gave the Rx and discuss the matter? Did he absolutely want slab off, or is that just a suggestion? This way, the optician can explain what the complexity with a multifocal is and what they MAY need to do for the format to work.

    Jennifer L.

    Dansville, NY

    Any experienced optician will question a doctor’s Rx, whether it be a huge change in cylinder, missing prism, or slab off suggestion. The slab off here was a suggestion and it sounds like Kate has enough experience to know that it probably isn’t warranted. I don’t think it’s necessary to inform the patient—it may be more confusing than informative. A redo isn’t going to happen—I’m confident with Kate’s judgment.

    Daniel M.

    Rockaway, NY

    If it is on the prescription it should be filled as written.

    Martha D.

    Wheatfield, IN

    If an optometrist orders a slab off you should make it according to the script. At least she should call the doctor and talk to him about the script instead of just dismissing the slab off. Never assume the patient is going to have problems.

     

    What’s the Brain Squad?

  • If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. eyecare business serving the public, you’re invited to join the INVISION Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting eyecare professionals. Good deal, right? Sign up here.
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