PCP Communication—Message Received?

By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO December 14, 2012

Don’t you just hate it when you deliver a “clear message” only to have the receiver miss the most important point? I am reminded of an episode where my father and I misunderstood my pick-up location after a day of deer hunting.

“I’ll meet you at the bridge right after the Forest Service Station.” It seemed clear enough to me. However, my father heard: “I’ll meet you at the bridge after you turn right at the Forest Service Station.”

You guessed it, two bridges—six miles apart—and before GPS and cell phones. It was problematic to say the least. The message above was just complex enough that we missed the most important part: the actual location of the pickup.

I believe that optometry has done a great job providing input to primary care physicians (PCP) regarding the health of our shared patients. However, I believe we need to be careful that our key message(s) are not missed in our communications and that our letters clearly indicate what we want the PCP to do with the information.

PCPs work with very tight patient schedules. They have limited time to digest the content of our letters. And now, with the advent of electronic medical records, we can produce some very detailed reports. While detail can be beneficial, we need to be careful that the most important key messages do not get lost in a lengthy report. In fact, I would submit that longer is not better, especially if key messaging is not highlighted in some fashion for easy notice by the PCP.

I would offer four key messages that should be highlighted in any PCP communication:

  • Primary Diagnosis

  • Assessment

  • Next Steps (me)

  • Next Steps (PCP)


The PCP certainly needs input regarding specific eye health conditions (cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.). It is also critical that they receive input regarding chronic disease (diabetes, hypertension, etc.). But I think it is very important to not stop there. What is your plan for your continued treatment and management? What action are you recommending for the PCP? If no referral is required, say so to avoid unnecessary concern.

Remember, our goal is to cement ourselves in the mind of the PCP as the eye care manager in the ongoing care of our shared patients. Our letters should reflect our ability to manage our patients and should reassure the PCP as such.

As I See It, the PCP communication is our opportunity to both reassure and make recommendations. The PCP needs to know that we have a treatment plan in place and that we are continuing with ongoing care and management. It is our chance to be specific and to tell the primary care physician what we want them to do with our input. So, my recommendation is to highlight, underline, use arrows, or in some way call attention to your key messages within the body of the letter for easy notice and best effect.

P.S. My father was convinced that my eventual six mile hike in the dark would be helpful in future communications.


TIP: Visit the Eye Health Management section of the Forms Library on VSPOnline to download a Primary Care Physician Communication Form for use in your practice.


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