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

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. 

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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.

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

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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. 

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 Reader 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.

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.

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.


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

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