Making every interaction count so that our patients feel cared for is so important for our profession.

There can be so many underlying factors when patients walk into our practice. They may have hidden illnesses, suffer from anxiety or have a fear of the unknown. They may have heard stories of what an eye care practitioner can detect or they may have had a bad experience previously. We do not know their real concerns until we have invested time to understand their needs.

With this in mind, we aim to observe the customer when they enter the practice. The clues are easy to see if you are familiar with the signs and symptoms of visual limitations. This is where training our front of house team becomes so important: understanding what it is like to be a minus six dioptre unaided or a patient with macula degeneration; the amazing way the eyes can appear normal from the outside and what we can find out following an eye examination. We have so many ways to simulate these visual experiences in our practices. Our empathy begins with understanding and relating to the patient.

An interaction I had with a patient a few years ago encouraged me to discuss this issue with my team. The patient had explained she really did not like having her eyes examined, hence the 15-year delay in coming in. There was no real reason other than she did not like how close the practitioner came with the ‘bright light’ on her last eye test and that she did not want to be told she had to wear glasses. She followed this with the classic humorous diversion: ‘Well I can see the Sun – and look how far that is.’

The reassurances we give to all our patients of the importance of eye health examinations is sometimes not enough. Which is why we need to connect with them, understand their concerns and make the whole experience individual and specific to their needs.

We explain the ‘why’ to our teams so they understand why we strive to deliver the best service to the patient and once this is understood, the service provider can then develop their own ‘how’. This is very important as then it can be customised to the individual, which is always more sincere.

Every patient is different, and this makes our role as eye care professionals so interesting and rewarding. Observing how a patient navigates to the front desk, looks at the frames, reads a leaflet or holds their phone – it all starts putting the story together. This is one of the techniques I like to implement in pre-reg supervision in week one and is also part of the support team induction.

Observing the patient can also assist in audiology. The giveaway signs can be how they concentrate on what you are saying or if they lean in to try to listen better with all the background noise. Their occupation could have had an impact on their hearing. Or even the classic one when the patient does not hear their name being called. Signposting them to audiology colleagues is another way how we as frontline health providers can really make a difference.

We extend our services further when we discuss the domiciliary aspect of our work with friends and family of housebound relatives, highlighting that we can arrange for someone to examine their eyes at home. Their relief that this service is available shows what we still need to do to promote awareness of the role of eye care providers.

It is also about being clinically curious when a patient brings a friend or family member into the consultation room. I always feel there is a genuine reason why the ‘spectator’ is in the room and ask gently if they have any concerns that I should take into
consideration.

This is further developed when we explain step by step what we are doing and why, throughout the examination – especially the IOPs, fields, retinal photographs, OCT images, the slit lamp technique and Volk. It highlights to the patient all the information that is obtained and how we measure, record and will use it as baseline measurements to compare on the next visit.

And then making sure the patients knows we are here for them seven days a week should they have any concerns about their vision.

This reassurance and customising our consultation to meet the needs of every individual is so important. The trust the patient then gives us cannot be quantified and will hopefully set us apart from the ongoing online threat.

Satvinder ophthalmic director of the Specsavers Daventry and Towcester practices.