Doctor Patient Relations

The 3 Things You Can Do to Be the Doctor Patients Need in a Pandemic

By Benjamin Kachelman, OD

July 29, 2020

As health-care professionals, we find ourselves at a surprise transition in our professional life. What was familiar and routine a mere few months ago, may seem foreign and unknown now. Hopefully, we still remember why there are so many dials on a phoropter, or what an exotropia is, or how do I file this insurance correctly. Our offices recently reopened, and now we have stepped out into the unknown.

This is what I’ve learned about what is new and different for the (at least, short-term) future at our practice and what is important moving forward:

Be Available
As our doors reopened for our patients, we sat in wonder of what would happen. Would we be sitting most of the day as we were on the front side of this quarantine? Would people be standing in a line at the doors waiting to get in? (Six feet apart, of course.) What did the future hold? It was neither of these. Many of our usual pre-appointed patients were not coming in, which was slightly depressing. What we joyfully discovered is that we were being “rediscovered” by patients we had not seen in five, eight, sometimes 10 years because they had been lost to recall or pursued eyecare at other offices.

Other than a simple post on our Facebook page that we were open, we had not advertised our reopening. We had not reached out, or gone down a list formulated from our software, but we simply opened the doors and told people that we were here and ready to help with their needs.

A lot of the chief complaints we received began with, “I’ve been sitting around during this quarantine, and I realized …” or “I received a stimulus check, and I’ve been waiting until I could come do this…” Time away from the pace of life, and time at home to reflect forced people to realize that they had neglected their vision and eye health. It was the perfect opportunity now for them to come in for an eye exam. We were ready and waiting to help them. What will be the key to success post-quarantine? Take the opportunities to help people. Do not say no.

Be Their Doctor
Our office was still open, and we were seeing emergencies during the quarantine phase of the pandemic, as many optometrists were. The pace around our office slowed as we went to minimal staff, hours shortened, and there was less activity in the office. Most who came in for an emergency were happy, but not for the reason you would think. They were grateful to have their situation resolved, or treated, but many were thankful to have someone, or anyone, else to talk to.

Weeks and months of talking to immediate family members (who are driving them CRAZY!) or talking to themselves turned into appreciation for spending extra time talking and discussing with their eye doctor. It was a little bit about their eyes and what had happened, but our time together was mostly spent in general conversation.

At the heart of the human spirit, we are social beings. That cannot be suppressed. The Dalai Lama once said, “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

There will be pressures to move on to the next patient, or to increase the tempo of an exam to get patients in and out in a timely manner, but we must not forget our primary purpose in what we do. We are here to take care of people, not just eyes. Take those extra moments to connect with the patient in front of you. It may be exactly what they need.

Be Kind
One of the most prevalent phrases that we have seen or heard during this pandemic is, “We’re all in this together.” While we are all in this together, I have noticed that we all react in different ways. The greatest lesson we are learning in 2020 is kindness to our fellow humans. Mark Twain said, “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

If they are not already, the “blind” will be sitting in front of us for new glasses, contacts or treatments for their eye conditions. Regardless of what opinions they hold, they deserve the kindest words we could use because “we are all in this together.” Since opening up, I have met people who were excited to have time to do home-improvement projects and enjoyed the time off, but I have also interacted with those who are experiencing depression and needing to hear kind words of encouragement.

In the same vein of thought, there will be discussion among our peers of Personal Protective Equipment usage, new protocols and recommendations for operating our offices. What is ideal for some may not be useful for others. This is no reason to discourage and insult each other. We may not live in the same areas and may not be affected the same way, so our reactions may be different, but there is one thing we can all do… BE KIND to one another.

Benjamin Kachelman, OD, practices at Florence Eye Center in Florence, Ala. To contact him: drkachelman@florenceeyecenter.com

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