View from the High Street: Clearly communicating
Ross Campbell reflects on how easy it is for patients to fail to absorb what you are telling them if your jargon does not gel
Author: Ross Campbell
A recent discussion with a patient during her sight test reminded me of the complexities of the language we use in our work as optical professionals on a day to day basis, which we may consider to be ‘routine’. This patient attended for her sight test with me two years after her previous examination at another optician. It was another busy day in practice, and nothing was out of the ordinary with the results of her eye examination, and she was in good physical and mental health.
She already wears varifocals to correct her astigmatism and presbyopia, and had done so successfully for many years previously. She was fairly well educated regarding the benefits of having regular eye examinations due to her work, which was office-based, and also due to the fact her mother had recently been diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration. She wanted to replace her now tired existing varifocals and update the lenses in her varifocal sunglasses.
When summarising the results of her eye examination, I referenced her astigmatism and presbyopia, in both clinical and layman’s terms. At the end of this explanation the lady surprised me by stating that while she was aware of her vision changing with age, she had never been informed about her astigmatism. Now I fully expect that in all her past examinations at her previous optician this patient had received the best care and attention, and most likely had indeed received a full explanation regarding her prescription, but she states that she could not recall having this mentioned before.
Furthermore, during the eye examination we talked about her visual needs outside of work and she mentioned that she spent a lot of time boating in her spare time and holidays. I recommended that polarising lenses would be ideal for this activity and following an explanation of the benefits for her hobby, the lady agreed that this would be ideal, and wished she had been offered this lens type by her previous optician.
She had left her sunglass frames that she wanted to reglaze at home, so I made an appointment for her to return to take the required measurements for her new lenses at a later date. When she returned for this reglaze I was surprised to discover that her current sunglasses were actually already polarising lenses, but again, the lady was quite unaware of this fact.
Her previous optometrists had obviously given this lady the best care and attention, but due to factors including the relative infrequency of visits and the unfamiliar terminology we use on a daily basis she may have forgotten what went on, or what was actually discussed at that time.
Now obviously, with good explanation regarding the prescription and ocular heath checks, most patients might retain a good amount of knowledge for their future visits. However, when I try to recall what my dentist told me about my teeth during my last check up only six months ago, I would struggle to give an accurate recollection.
So what can I do to ensure my patients always take away the important messages regarding their eye health and vision following their time in my practice?
Continuing to take the time to discuss the results in as much detail as the patient wants should result in a better understanding their prescription and eye health. In rare cases, there are of course some patients who want to know the minimal detail about their eye health or vision apart from if it is normal and healthy or not, and if they need glasses or not.
In my experience, in the majority of cases the patient does indeed want to know the results of their eye examination in more detail. On top of our verbal advice and information and written prescription, we can back our findings up with information leaflets like those from the College of Optometrists, so that they have a resource to refer to at a later date. This is especially useful in cases of significant pathology, or where there are multiple issues that have been uncovered during their examination.
The language we use in optometric practice can be difficult for patients to retain over time. How many times have you had patients inform you that they have had ‘stigmata’ of the eyes which they have miraculously been correcting for many years with glasses? Although there will just be some patients who will never remember the details, I hope that when I next see the lady referenced in this column she may remember at least more about the results of her eye examination.
Ross Campbell is ophthalmic director of Specsavers, Richmond, North Yorkshire.