Scott A. Edmonds, OD, FAAO, focuses his blog on the role of the optometrist in health care reform – moving from primary eye care to primary health care. He is the chief medical officer of MARCH Vision Care, the co-director of the Low Vision/Contact Lens Service at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia and a member of the Primary Care Optometry News Editorial Board. 

Disclosure: Edmonds is a consultant for March Vision.

BLOG: Revisiting your image

In spite of the rash of current snow storms, spring is right around the corner. Punxsutawney Phil, in fact, predicted that it will be coming sooner than we might think.

Spring is the time for new beginnings and might be a good time to refresh your thinking about your image and that of your practice.

Most of us in private practice have some aspect of optometry that is our strong suit. Perhaps you have a strong optical shop with high-end designer frames or a broad base of lens treatment options that can meet the special occupational needs or hobbies of your patients. You may have an interest in ocular surface disease or glaucoma and have invested in the training and instruments to be an expert in this type of medical eye care.

Whatever area of optometry has peaked your interest, your concentration on this area is often what shapes your image in your community. One of my fellow contributors to Primary Care Optometry News, Dr. Augustin Gonzalez, writes a feature on “Social Media and the OD.” He provides many useful tips on how to create an online image, and this is very helpful in our digital world. As important as it is, this “virtual image” it is not quite the same as the “real” image you create with your physical interactions with your patients.

When your patient goes home or to work or out in the community, what are they going to say about their experience in your office? That conversation will create your real image in your community.

Although the furniture, fixtures and physical plant is a part of the experience in your office, it is not the driver of your image. The attitude of your staff and their interactions with your patients can also make a contribution. But the most important part of your image is created in that last interaction where you sum up the examination and testing, make your diagnosis, and lay out your treatment and management plan. This interaction, something that I like to call the “doctoring” of the eye examination, is the essence of your image.

With the changes in optometry that include big box retail, cost effective vertical integration and online competitors for basic optometry services, the image that you create is of vital importance to your business. This is that aspect of your practice that should be contemplated during your spring planning.

What is the theme of your doctoring? Is it optical related or related to ocular disease? If so, perhaps the image you create is one of a really good optician or that of a junior ophthalmologist. If, however, your examination was more comprehensive and included a careful family history, social habits and vital signs, you set the stage for truly holistic case summary and management plan that will create a very different type of image. This management plan certainly includes the optical correction and ocular medical exam – assessing the presence or risk of ophthalmic pathology – but also includes the risk of systemic disease. Unaddressed modifiable risk factors lead to common chronic systemic medical problems that often lead to vison loss. The management plan also includes lifestyle changes that can lower these risk factors. The image that you create with this type of patient interaction is one of an optometric physician.

Optometric physicians are not the optometrist of the 20th century. They are also not ophthalmologists or primary care physicians. They are a unique blend of all these things with training in physics of optics, medical education and the art of refraction. They apply their skills to meeting the visual needs of their patients on an annual basis. They are part of the primary care team that can help transform the American health care system from one focused on the treatment of illness to one of prevention and wellness.

So this spring, think about the image that you want to create. If you want to be an optometric physician, it requires more than just name change!