Optometry practices today are struggling to re-invent themselves as practitioners of optometric medicine. This evolution began over a decade ago when Medicare first recognized optometrists as equal to ophthalmologists. This classification makes sense, because optometry students are educated alongside medical students. Now new laws are allowing optometrists to practice as they have been trained. However, some optometrists are having difficulty reconditioning themselves, staff, and patients to think outside of the traditional “glasses and contacts” mindset. They know they need to be mirroring medicine in how they practice, but are having trouble making the switch. Practitioners who have been in clinical practice for a long time will remember comprehensive exams that included diagnosing, managing, and treating everything in one all-inclusive exam. Today those practitioners have the difficult task of now seeing comprehensive as a full eye and health assessment with the appropriate party responsible for the visit. Beginning this transition process starts by taking several baby steps.
1. Collect vision benefit cards & medical insurance for ALL patients
When a patient schedules an appointment, your staff should already be discussing what the patient needs to be prepared for the exam. This includes both vision benefits and medical insurance information. If patients say they only want a vision exam, the staff should not argue with them, or discuss it further. However, they should still kindly request patients bring both sets of information for their files. The seeds have been planted in their minds, and that is the initial purpose.
2. Communicate in the exam room the difference between “vision” and “medical”
The next step in shifting the mindset of patients occurs during the exam. The doctor’s assistant and doctor should both be communicating in a way that differentiates vision assessment from medical assessment. For example, when the doctor’s assistant is asked what the eye pressure test is for, the assistant should immediately respond, “We check your eye pressures to look for any medical eye conditions that could negatively impact your vision now or in the future.” Alert staff and doctors can find many opportunities to communicate to patients the difference between vision assessments and medical eye assessments.
3. Lead staff to think vision AND medical eye
A shift in mindset is best caught, not taught. Just like children learn more from watching what their parents do, not listening to what they say, so too much of what your staff learns is from watching you. You can lecture to your staff all day but until they see it in action it won’t change their behavior. The staff and patients should hear you talk about vision and medical eye in two different ways. For example, when you communicate to your staff in front of the patient that you need to see the patient back in one month for a dry eye evaluation, make sure you let them know that the intermittent blurry vision today was not from a glasses prescription problem but from dry eye, which is a medical eye problem. Don’t be afraid to say to your staff, “We will need to make sure Mrs. Smith’s medical insurance is on file as the next visit is medical.” This reinforces to the patient that not only do you offer vision care, but medical eye care as well. This also helps the staff not to have to introduce this to the patient.
To be successful with most things in life, you must have a plan and be intentional about executing the plan. This is no different. You cannot walk into the office and immediately start making the above changes, but you can begin to discuss these changes with your patients and staff. You have intentionally or unintentionally trained your patients and staff to think and act a certain way. Your future success as the CEO of the optometry business and as an optometrist will depend on your ability to successfully make this transition.