Office Environment

5 Ways to Accommodate Senior Patients

By Maria Higgins, OD

Oct. 3, 2018

The senior population is growing, with 47.8 million people 65 or older, according to the most recent U.S. Census. This represents 14.9 percent of the U.S. population. Given these numbers, your practice can grow by accommodating senior patients.

Some 91.5 percent of American adults age 55, and older, use some form of vision correction, according to VisionWatch statistics from The Vision Council. The opportunity to serve these patients with visual solutions, and to safeguard eye health, is huge.

Aging adults experience higher risk of chronic disease. In 2012, 60 percent of older adults managed two, or more, chronic conditions, according to HealthyPeople.gov, part of the federal government’s HealthyPeople 2020 initiative.

I was the owner of an independent practice, which I sold a few years ago. Recently, I began working as a freelance nursing-home optometrist. I travel around the country, providing care to under-served populations of older people. Here are some of the things I’ve learned when providing services to seniors.

The barn doors pictured in this photo gave Dr. Higgins’ office a unique look–and opened wide enough to accommodate patients with mobility issues. The floor between hall and exam room was even, with no steps up or down required.

Make your practice handicap accessible
The ADA requirements  for a business include, among other things, a handicap entrance and bathroom. My former practice was in a historic building. We were not able to be completely compliant because of the downtown historic code, but we did the best we could. A ramp needs to be a foot long for every inch of rise. We had two steps, or a 15” rise, so a 15-foot long ramp would have been necessary. There simply was not enough space on the sidewalk. We had a portable metal ramp from Uline.

Door openings must be a minimum of 32”. This is to assure a wheelchair can get through comfortably.

Make sure that your floors are not slippery. Grippy carpets are helpful.

The entryway from the street at Dr. Higgins’ former practice was wide, and easy to navigate through, even with a walker, and the office featured enough open space to allow walkers and wheelchairs to get through.

Paperwork should be clearly photocopied and in larger print.
Try to condense and minimize the amount of paperwork needed. For example, do not have them write their name, date of birth and address over and over.

If your intake information is done on a computer, have easy-to-follow directions. Make the process as easy as possible, without causing confusion. Give older patients ample time, and do not rush them.

We kept readers on hand at the front desk in case someone forgot theirs. This is also a nice sales booster. You could also have small, lighted hand magnifiers for patients with low vision to use.

The optical in Dr. Higgins’ office featured creative displays and touches, like wavy mirrors, but, importantly, was also well lit, making it easier for people with vision impairment to see.

Lighting should be as bright as possible.
There should be a well-lit path for patients to follow. An idea would be to put arrows on the floor to help direct the flow through the office.

Speak Slowly & Clearly
Any person who speaks to patients on the phone should be slow, clear and deliberate in their delivery. If there is an automated directory, make sure the choices are clearly spoken, slow and easy to understand. Make a point to not be overwhelming in speech, on the phone, and in the exam. Background music should be soft and simple.

Be Kind & Respectful
It should not have to be said, but the elderly should be treated with kindness and respect. Do not speak to them in a condescending or babyish tone. Kindness is free.

 

These articles may also interest you:

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5 Winning Marketing Ideas from Outside Optometry

 

Maria Higgins, OD, owns The Unique Technique, a business and marketing consultancy. She formerly owned The Unique Optique in Frederick, Md. To contact her: info@the-unique-technique.com.

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