By Donny Broyles, OD
March 30, 2022
Black Americans are at a higher risk for conditions like diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and cataracts, and have a significant interest in purchasing eyewear and other optical products with a spending power of $300 billion, according to McKinsey & Company. Yet many practices overlook the importance of creating an inclusive environment, and reaching out to all the populations of people in their community.
Here is how to ensure you create a practice that welcomes all different kinds of patients, including those from Black communities. My practice has seen approximately 45 percent growth in both medical and daily routine eyecare over the past 10 years – including diabetes, glaucoma and cataract eye treatments – and is continuing to see more.
Hire a Diverse Staff
When building ties between your practice and local community, consider hiring a diverse staff that is compassionate and understanding of patients’ needs. Building and maintaining trust is an essential component of improving access and equity in healthcare.
Another important consideration is to be knowledgeable and open about the needs of different communities. Being empathetic and having willingness to learn about other cultural practices, and worldviews different from your own, can help forge ties with diverse communities.
Create Marketing Representative of All Ethnic Groups
As eyecare professionals, we deeply care about the health of all of our patients, but the reality is that certain ethnic groups are more predisposed to health risks than others and have an especially urgent need for annual comprehensive exams. This is why representation matters. Marketing that includes imagery of different races and ethnic groups can encourage members of those groups make an appointment with you for an exam.
In my practice, we aim to create a welcoming environment that is inclusive through marketing e-mails to patients and on our practice website.
When patients see themselves reflected in the imagery around your practice, they usually feel more comfortable.
Build Diabetic Eyecare Services
Diabetes is a serious condition that affects over 37 million Americans. Additionally, 96 million adults in the U.S. have pre-diabetes, but more than 84 percent of them do not know they have it. That’s more than 130 million Americans affected by these conditions.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the prevalence of diabetes in non-Hispanic Blacks is 12.1 percent, versus only 7.4 percent in non-Hispanic whites. Genetics, environment, socioeconomics and access are key factors contributing to this health disparity. In addition to diabetic retinopathy, Black Americans are also at higher risk for cataracts.
Many of these diseases don’t have symptoms at first and can cause vision loss or blindness if they’re not treated. It’s important to educate your patients that an annual eye exam can detect early signs of many eye diseases when they’re often easier to treat.
Build Mutually Beneficially Referral Relationships with Other Healthcare Providers
Don’t just focus on building a robust referral network, but on building relationships that are mutually beneficial and help patients stay healthy long-term. With this mindset, our practice has developed a solid referral system that includes working with primary care providers and other healthcare specialists to manage diabetes, glaucoma and other conditions.
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Empower Your Patients with Knowledge
Sharing information with your patients about what may affect them, and how those risks can be managed, is crucial to keeping them healthy. By working with patients as a team and empowering them with knowledge, you can build trust.
Many people are not aware that an array of vision and health issues can be treated, or even reversed, by taking simple steps like going for an annual eye exam in which an eye doctor can get a deeper look at your overall health. Patients also need to be taught about the impact lifestyle changes, like improved diet and exercise, can have on preventing the development or worsening of some eye diseases.
For those living with diabetes, an annual eye exam with an eyecare professional can help prevent or delay disease and vision loss caused by diabetes. That’s why organizations like VSP Vision Care, the American Diabetes Association and Regeneron are collaborating on major initiatives, like Focus on Diabetes, to promote annual eye exams.
Educate Patients So They Also Make Sure Their Family Comes for Annual Exams
Since many health conditions, including diabetes, are genetic, our goal should be to remove barriers between an OD and the patient. I want patients to feel comfortable in not just sharing their health concerns, but also becoming advocates for their loved ones’ health. We encourage our patients to feel empowered and share the importance of going to an optometrist for an eye exam with others, so they and their family members are able to achieve their long-term health goals.
Donny Broyles, OD, is a VSP network eye doctor at Redhawk Vision Center in Temecula, Calif. He received his Doctor of Optometry degree at the University of Houston College of Optometry. Dr. Broyles is passionate about educating his patients on the importance of eye health and its relationship to general health, including diabetes. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org