Over the years we’ve talked about a ‘patient for life’, but what exactly does that mean… and how does it benefit you and the patient?
The concept of a ‘patient for life’ revolves around building a long term relationship with a given patient. It starts from the very first contact with a patient, so your staff, website, social media and systems, must be exemplary.
Many patients will have been referred to you by existing, happy patients, which is one of the major benefits of offering great patient care.
one of the chief complaints from patients is the frustration of seeing someone different at each visit and starting all over again
Age-related macular degeneration and advanced glaucoma patients are typically older, which means the time you spend with them may only amount to a few years of care. For these patients, the burden of living with debilitating eye disease and low vision is massive. Everything we do to minimise this burden is usually very much appreciated. Having the skills to provide the best outcome is important but interpersonal skills like empathy, are equally so. These patients, in particular, may be isolated and lonely. Taking the time to listen, not only to their recounts of visual problems, is something valued. Learning a bit about their circumstances or asking about grandchildren or loved ones is part of this.
Other patients may come to you with complex problems that colleagues were unable to address satisfactorily. They may consult you for your expertise in a specific niche you have carved for yourself. Keratoconus, ortho-K, myopia control, and scleral lenses are some speciality areas that come to mind. Dry eye and allergy management are others, while strabismus, behavioural optometry, glaucoma, and low vision also lend themselves to ongoing relationships.
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
These journeys may be life-long, and travelled together. One of my most loyal patients was a successful, severe keratoconic corneal RGP wearer. His lens, on the worst eye, was around 4.85BC and -27.50D. He first came to see me as a 13 year old in South Africa. Like me, he also moved to New Zealand. There he saw me regularly, for over 23 years, and across three practices. When he travelled the world, working in major financial markets like London and Hong Kong, I referred him to expert colleagues that I knew I could entrust with his care. He returned to New Zealand to raise a family and became a professor at Auckland University. He was one of my first patients early in my career and was one of the last to see me in my final days of clinical practice before I hung up my retinoscope. Although an intense individual, we got on fine. We had the benefit of shared cultures and had interesting discussions on keratoconus and financial derivatives. He referred his mother, father and brother, who I also took care of for many years. In his case, I provided over thirty years of care.
Having the skills to provide the best outcome is important but interpersonal skills like empathy, are equally so
My father, who practised optometry for 66 years, had loyal patients over many decades. Some of his early pioneering hard lens patients remained with him for over 50 years, often travelling from all corners of South Africa and the globe to see him.
That’s what I’m talking about when I refer to a ‘patient for life’.
The rewards of having a patient for life are great and include the following:
- The patient receives life changing, life-time eye care in a trusted setting, as may referred friends and family.
- Amazing personal satisfaction for the practitioner.
- Financial benefits to both patient and practitioner, another win-win.
- It helps with succession planning and mentoring. In the aforementioned case I was able to introduce my patient to a younger colleague I’d been mentoring. He now continues happily under her care.
- Nothing beats decades of data to provide a patient history. For example, not too long ago, I noted very early signs of glaucoma after detecting a long-term patient’s subtle longitudinal changes. The patient was grateful and the co-managing ophthalmologist was impressed. I was subsequently asked to present the case to demonstrate to colleagues the value of long-term data and relationships. Genetic history also serves families well.
- Continuity of care – in this age of commercial optometry, one of the chief complaints from patients is the frustration of seeing someone different at each visit and starting all over again.
- Experience, rapport, respect and empathy are just some of the other benefits to consider.
Patients will actively seek you out, stay loyal for decades and refer enthusiastically, if you deliver the goods.