By Maria Sampalis, OD
Jan. 31, 2018
Your patients may value your clinical skills and the service of your staff, but that doesn’t mean they’re emotionally connected to your practice in a way that keeps them coming back. Patients need to know their doctor as a person to feel a bond that keeps them in your practice. I call this emotional branding.
Here are three typical conversations that that I have with patients, where I draw on my personal experiences to create, and then strengthen, that emotional bond.
Share a Personal Eyecare Experience
When I diagnose a patient, or a patient’s parent, with cataracts, this brings up questions and anxiety. The patient, and their family, may not understand, for instance, when is the right time is to have the surgery and which IOL to choose. Anxiety clouds the decision-making process. They may be worried about risks, and wonder about comfort and visual quality after the surgery.
An easy way to make patients feel better, and share some of your own story, is to talk about your own experience with cataracts or that of a family member (with their consent). You can let the patient know that you just went through the process of cataract surgery with one of your parents, and that it’s nothing to worry about. You also can let them know that your own parent had many of the same questions and concerns that the patient has, and if you’re comfortable doing so, you can let the patient know the decisions, such as IOL choice, that your parent made. Be careful, though, if you share a medical choice you, or a family member, made, that you explain that this was not the best choice necessarily for everyone; just the best choice for you or your family.
A key area of anxiety for patients is family history of eye disease. If a patient worriedly tells you they have a grandparent with macular degeneration, or that they have a lot of glaucoma in their family, you may be able to alleviate that anxiety by making the patient feel less alone: “I know what you mean–my grandmother had macular degeneration. The good thing is progress is being made every year monitoring the disease, and even treating it, so that’s something that makes me feel better.”
Share Parenting Concerns & Frustrations
If you have children, and feel comfortable sharing your experience as a parent, you have a powerful opportunity to bond with patients. A big part of turning one patient into a whole family of patients is educating that patient about the importance of bringing children in for annual exams.
Consider having photos of your children in the office, a picture of your whole family, or artwork created by your children. Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything about children. People will see the photos or the artwork, and comment or ask questions. It’s a conversation-starter that gives you a launching pad to discuss the importance of monitoring children’s eye health and vision, and the products, like sunwear, which children need to protect their eyes.
The conversation flows naturally after a comment is made about a photo of your children. “Do you have any young ones yourself?” you could ask a patient who compliments you on the photo of your beautiful family. If the patient says they do have a couple of children, mention that you’d love to meet them someday. “They sound wonderful! You should bring them in with you some time. A lot of people don’t realize it, but pediatricians recommend that children have annual eye exams to screen for diseases and make sure their vision is as good as it should be. That way you know they’re able to see everything they need to in school and in sports. They won’t always tell you when they can’t see, so it’s important.”
Share Your Special Interests & Passions
An important part of learning about patients’ vision needs is asking about lifestyle. Many practices even have patients fill out lifestyle questionnaires. Patients may have little tolerance for filling out forms, whether on paper or online, and so, may rush through it without answering the questions thoroughly.
What works a lot better, and gives you a bonding opportunity, is to both ask about the patient’s hobbies and pastimes, and share your own. “Do you spend a lot of time outdoors?” you can ask a patient, who may then just answer, “Yeah, a little.” Without missing a beat, you can add: “I just discovered mountain biking, so as soon as the weather gets warm enough, my husband and I like to spend a lot of time about an hour from here, in the country, riding. We even starting taking photos, and have a travelog online that we’ve created.”
You may be surprised how much a patient will open up about their life once you’ve shared something of your own experience. “I do a little riding myself,” the patient might then say. “When we go down to Hilton Head in the summer we like to ride in the paths down there in the woods. It’s really great because the beach is right there, so then, after we’re done riding, we can cool off by jumping in the water.”
So, then, you and your patient have shared pieces of your lives with each other, and you’ve learned valuable information that can help you guide the patient: “You know, I find polarized sunglasses are a great help when I’m out on the water, or riding in a place with a lot of glare. When we’re done in here, I can have our optician show you some good sunglasses for both the bike riding and time on the beach.”
Your patients need your clinical skills as a doctor, but it’s often the personal experiences you share that will give them a sense that you understand their eyecare and vision challenges, and that you should be the doctor they return to every year for care.
What personal experiences do you share with your patients? How can your own stories help you better communicate eyecare and vision needs with patients, and make them feel bonded to your practice?
Maria Sampalis OD, practices at Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick RI. She is also the founder of Corporate Optometry on Facebook. Dr. Sampalis is also founder of the new job site corporateoptometrycareers.com and www.corporateoptometry.com. She is available for practice management consulting. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org