October 01, 2007
2 min read

Use technology to interact with patients

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Michael D. DePaolis, OD, FAAO
Michael D. DePaolis

I recently attended my son’s middle school open house. While I was impressed by the faculty, facilities and curriculum, I was equally in awe of the learning environment. It is a school in which every teacher has his/her own Web page, complete with daily lesson plans, homework assignments and links to related learning sites. Many of the classrooms are equipped with computers affording students the ability to compose music or implement CAD software.

Then there’s the program whereby foreign language lessons can be downloaded to a student’s iPod. While I glided through a typical school day, one thing became perfectly clear. As a school, they get it. They really get it.

Granted, I recognize that ours is an exceptional school district. It is a district in which teachers, administrators, support personnel and parents work hard to provide the most student-centric learning environment possible. To do such mandates an ongoing effort to “rethink” the way students learn. It requires a continual tweaking of curriculum and the way in which the message is delivered.

While students still must learn the fundamentals – the 3 r’s if you will – they do so in a vastly different way than a few decades ago. This is a group of kids who have grown up with and embrace technology. It’s for just this reason that technology is such an integral part of their learning process. Yes, our school district gets it.

While our school district is certainly on the right track, it does beg one question. Do we get it? As an eye care community – collectively – do we get it? In many respects, the doctor-patient relationship parallels that of the teacher-student. While we might be extremely adept at making the proper diagnosis and implementing an effective treatment plan, a great deal of our success hinges upon patient compliance. In essence, we teach and our patients learn.

Granted, this might not seem too terribly profound as we all recognize the importance of sound patient communication skills. However, it is a topic that warrants further scrutiny. Simply put, are the ways in which we communicate with our patients contemporary and effective?

Undoubtedly, the cornerstone of effective patient care is communication, and there is no substitute for good chair side dialogue. However, given the time constraints that doctors and patients face today, we don’t always have the luxury of ample time. It is for precisely this reason that adjunctive forms of communication are so critical.

For instance, how should we teach a 12-year-old proper contact lens handling and care techniques? Is 5 minutes of verbal instruction from a technician adequate … or should this be supplemented with a tutorial DVD? Consider the busy young professional for whom you’ve prescribed a new allergy eye drop. To get a status report, do you play “telephone tag” for a week or provide them with your practice e-mail address for ongoing communication? How should you address the 55-year-old female with macular drusen and a family history of age-related macular degeneration? Do you hand her a dated office pamphlet or do you direct her to a reputable Web site for more information on prophylaxis and treatment options?

Undoubtedly, change is inevitable. As health care providers, it’s imperative we change as well, to more effectively serve our patients’ needs. To do so means one thing – you get it.