By Susan Lake, OD
As an Optometrist who has a strong emphasis in pediatrics in my practice, I am often referred “difficult” patients. I am so grateful for these patients. Most of the time I can find a connection point with our tinier patients that facilitates a productive examination. Early in my career I was lucky to work with a doctor who gave me one of the most valuable pieces of practice advice. He told me, “You can fake out an adult with big words and fancy talk, but you can NEVER, EVER fake out a kid. They will smell your lies every time, just be honest with them.”
I’ve kept that advice close over my years of practice and have found that it is almost always true. Here’s my top three ways to connect to the pediatric patients that end up in your chair.
- As my mentor said, “Don’t lie.” When you are getting ready to put the dilating drops in, don’t say, “It’s just a little water, it won’t hurt a bit.” Have you put dilating drops in lately? People, it HURTS. When you tell them it won’t hurt, and it does, they lose trust in you and you lose cooperation. Plus, I once read an article about a study that was done on children receiving painful treatments in a hospital setting. The study separated the group in to two sections. One was told that the procedures would hurt and one wasn’t told. The amount of pain reported by the patients following the procedure was far less in the group that had been prepared vs. the group that wasn’t told. I’ve found the same with drops. If I tell them it will sting a little, afterward they are much more likely to say it wasn’t that bad.
- Talk to them. It seems obvious but I’ve found that doctors many times equate speaking to the parents=speaking to the patient. It isn’t the same. In fact, many times I enter an exam room and don’t even talk to a parent for the first five minutes. I want to zone in on the patient and give them my full attention. I chat with them about school, their light-up shoes, or ask them about the weather. Most of the time, they love the attention and jump right in. If not, I usually tell them that I can talk enough for the both of us and tell them a silly joke I heard. 95% of the time I can connect with them during this five minutes. I’m then able to ask them who they brought with them to the exam and turn to meet the parents. Of all of the patient surveys I’ve gotten back, the most repeatable compliment I get is that “she talked directly to my child and got to know them first.” Why wouldn’t we do that? The child is our patient, not the parent. Think about how much you learn about your patients by talking to them that helps with your exam. Our pediatric patients are exactly the same.
- Find something quirky to do. I was taught by another amazing OD how to do a simple dog balloon animal and I started making them for my pediatric patients. The kids went crazy for it. My returning patients ask me for one the second I walk in the exam room and most even know the drawer I keep them in. It’s a great motivation for cooperation during the exam. If you’re not comfortable with balloons, let them put the chair up and down, let them turn the lights off and on, do whatever works but engage them and let this doctor be the one doctor that’s FUN to come to every year.
There’s no doubt that I still have some patients that cry and clam up. I have finished more than one exam without every hearing the child’s voice. Most of the time though, these three things connect with my patients and help me to serve them the best way possible.
Dr. Susan Lake is a native of Nebraska and a graduate of the University of Nebraska. She completed her Doctorate of Optometry from Southern College in Memphis. She is Board Certified in Vision Development and Vision Therapy and has a strong pediatric emphasis to her practice. She speaks frequently to parent and professional groups, sharing with them the importance of early recognition of vision problems. In her spare time she reads and contributes to her own blog discussing being a working Optometrist and Mom at Babyfocals.com. She and her husband share three Optometry practices and three daughters and they can all usually be found on a lake, in a boat and waterskiing.