Health Fair = Healthy Business

By Keshav Bhat, OD

There is nothing that excites me like a good community health fair. Away from the formal setting of the office, I can meet patients on their turf. I no longer wear a white coat, have an accompanying entourage or a computer screen I stare at! With a backdrop of music making a festive atmosphere and good eats, people of all ages gather together. Meeting in this context makes for nice interaction between patient and doctor. The hierarchical encounter is no more. In such circumstances, doctor and patient can be seen as one member of the community.

I enjoy health fairs because they provide the perfect merger of public health and medicine. At any given time I am advising a patient on individual health needs; in another instant I am addressing a group on a topic salient to the community such as diabetic eyecare or the latest advancements in cataract surgery. At health fairs we optometrists, nurses, nutritionists and primary care providers work in tandem for the community’s improved health. At these events I see my presence as integral to the fabric. To my mind, there are very few things more powerful than the feeling of contributing to a much larger purpose.

I have been in business for six years and have learned a few things by participating in community health fairs:

Health fairs offer a unique opportunity to engage patients in the community with which they self-identify.
When invited to address small groups on topics such as the impact of diabetes on visual health, individuals may be comforted by knowing others in the group share the same concerns that they do. It also works when trying to get a message across–and may very well bring those in who have thought of optometrists as incapable of providing this level of care. This can be an effective tool for ODs to become successful, not just in our individual practices, but to advance the image of the profession.

Health fairs are an excellent way to engage under-served communities in caring for their health.
Know the demographic of the community you will be serving and address topics specific to the intended community. Presentations can take the form of small workshops targeting subgroups of the community (e.g., glaucoma in the African American population). The idea is to increase awareness and encourage conversation and even lifestyle changes long after the health fair.

Health fairs are a great opportunity to field patient questions.
People may have many questions about eye-related issues that they come across in the media and may not get to ask their doctor. Health fairs provide a great forum where those questions can be answered since the environment is casual.

Health fairs uncover and provide the platform to correct misconceptions.

Patients don’t always talk freely in the office, even if you’re the master of open-ended questioning. The relaxed and collegial nature of the health fair allows for more time to speak openly with patients. Some of the more common questions I have fielded recently relate to buying glasses online. I am very careful about expressing my thoughts, and do not want to sound like the economic benefit of having to support an optical drives my opinion. As a strong believer in independent optometry, I stress the input of an experienced professional optician.

Here is what I say:

“The truth is there really is a lot that goes into a pair of glasses, and it takes many years of training and continuing education to fit a pair of glasses accurately. There are many options even in picking the appropriate material–high index, polycarbonate, Cr39, Trivex,; in design–single vision, progressive, lined bifocals or lined trifocals, computer lenses; and in lens treatment processes such as anti-reflective coating, Transitions, polarized, Optifog, blue light block or tinted lenses. Our optician makes a recommendation based on your visual needs, your personal style, your face shape, the frame measurements, your pupillary distance, and the length of progression, or seg height, in multifiocal lenses. The online retailer may provide some tips, but cannot get this measurement correct!”

Click HERE for an AOA brochure to reference when questions are asked about online ordering of glasses.

Health fairs can grow your practice.
This simply is the truth. I have given out business cards and inexpensive giveaways, and the returns are immeasurable. Some health fairs give you an opportunity to interact with kids, and when families see how comfortable you are with little children, chances are very likely that they think of you when these services are needed.

Health fairs are fun.
I came across a blog by Jan Gurley, MD, an internal medicine physician in a San Francisco homeless clinic, who upon becoming a Lambaréné Schweitzer Fellow, talked about the “addictive power of spending one’s days doing something worthwhile.” How true.

Interested? But do not know where to start? Get in touch with local community organizations and churches to meet with decision makers and planners. If language is a barrier, take a translator when giving presentations. This gesture can help strengthen relations with the community.

Click HERE to sign up to receive notifications about upcoming health fairs. You will receive periodic mail about screenings and health fairs conducted at businesses in your town. You even will be told in advance what vision plans these businesses carry for their employees!

Health fairs truly are a lesson in servant leadership and are a very fulfilling experience. Volunteer at a health fair one day. You won’t regret it.

Have you participated in health fairs? Why or why not? What advice can you give other ODs who haven’t participated yet in these events?

Keshav Bhat, OD, is the owner of Austin Village Eyecare in Matthews, N.C. To contact him:

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