When it comes to patient interactions, an eye care professional needs to have a level of, well, professionalism. However, that doesn’t mean you must be robotic in nature. You must learn the delicate art of emotional intelligence, according to Patty Casebolt, Chief Quality Officer at Medical Eye Center in Medford, Ore. In an article for Review of Optometric Business (ROB), she shared her tips for handling some highly emotional conversations with patients with a bit more grace, including those tough financial conversations.
“…patients are left wondering if they will be able to financially manage what the doctor has prescribed.”
Be Aware of Emotions
First and foremost, it helps to understand the signals when one is feeling a certain way: overwhelmed, frustrated, concerned, etc. Learn how to recognize certain tells, like fidgeting in the seat can mean anxiety or discomfort. Pay attention to facial expressions and tones of voice, then respond accordingly and caringly. You can create staff scripts to help your team know how you’d like them to react, but you must treat each patient as an individual, and respond as they need. An example script shared by the article’s author looks like this:
“Do you have any questions I can answer about the prescriptions the doctor has written? You have more than one option, and we can explore as many as you like to ensure we find one that works for you.”
In addition to recognizing patients’ emotions, you and your staff need to be aware of your emotions. Be sensitive to what each patient may be dealing with and be sure you don’t bring your emotions to the table. It’s important to be a comforting knowledge base so patients feel comfortable asking questions and sharing their feelings of uncertainty. The more you and your staff know, the better you can help solve whatever it is that’s concerning them.
Emphasize Lifestyle Needs
Just as each patient is different, so are their eye health needs. It’s important to recognize the individuality of patients’ lifestyle needs. Perhaps a common phrase you hear from patients is “I only want what my insurance covers.” It’s best not to argue with this statement, but instead, acknowledge that request and ask them to review all their options so they can make an informed decision.
Additionally, it helps patients to accept the recommendations when they’re catered to the specific needs of the patient. For example, if you want to recommend EyePromise Restore to a patient who doesn’t have any signs of age-related eye health issues, you or your staff can say something like this:
“I see from the doctor’s notes that you spend a lot of time outdoors and have a family history of age-related eye health. She has recommended EyePromise Restore because of this family history. While you don’t have any issues now, it’s best to get ahead of these issues. Your insurance would not cover the cost of these eye health supplements, but with your family history and your enjoyment of the outdoors, it would be an excellent investment for your future vision. Would you be open to reviewing what your purchase options are? I want to make sure you know all of your options.”
Train Staff to Speak Sensitively
Beyond your emotional intelligence, your staff needs to be well-versed in this area as well. Share with them your insights and let them share theirs. Collaborating on these experiences can help you develop real-world examples for training and the best responses to these situations. There are several online and outside sources to help you and your staff learn to speak sensitively about certain topics, especially those of the financial kind.
Finally, remove any assumptions or snap judgments. We can’t pretend to know what situations or struggles someone is experiencing, and we can’t assume people know everything we know. Treat everyone with respect and don’t limit educational conversations.
Connect Personally with Patients
Perhaps the most important point, it’s critical for eye care professionals to make a sincere connection with patients. It’s more than learning background info to recommend the right care protocols. It’s understanding what motivates them and what they care about and creating a loyalty between you and them. When you make that personal connection, patients tend to trust more of what you say and recommend, and you can make better recommendations based on their needs. You’re also more likely to receive referrals when people feel like they know you.
You can continue your optical education through CE and COPE courses, but you can’t forget to focus on the emotional intelligence side, too. These are helpful starting points for you and your practice, but it would be beneficial to look into some in-practice education on this topic, too. The more we can understand and empathize with one another, the better off we’ll all be.