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Our Important Role as Educators

By Jodie West, OD September 10, 2021

When I was in high school, I was mesmerized that my contacts, tiny pieces of plastic that I couldn’t even feel in my eyes, could correct my vision so that I could clearly see the trees. I decided then that optometry was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

A Passion for Education

Today, what I love most as a private practice owner is that I get to choose what we focus on in our practice and how we do things. In my practice, a primary focus is education—education of patients, and education of staff so they can help educate the patients. It’s important to me for patients to know more about their diagnosis and how to manage it. When the patient understands why we want to do something or why it's so important, I believe we have better success in getting them to take control of their healthcare.

A big differentiator for our practice is that we make sure the staff is equipped to answer all the questions that patients may ask them as they’re moving through the different stations in our office. I’m not the only one discussing healthcare with our patients—it’s a team effort. Patients like that, too, because they don’t need to wait to talk to me. They have confidence that the staff will answer their questions, or that if they don’t know the answer, they’ll research it. VSP Premier Academy360 has been a great resource to get everyone up-to-speed on many of the topics we encounter each day. Plus, the staff loves having the knowledge to be able to help educate the patients on their care.

Making a Difference from the Start

I have always loved working with children—they’re fun and energetic, and it’s so rewarding to identify and address visual needs that will impact the rest of their lives. Education plays an important role here, too—for the parent and child. Both need to understand what needs to be addressed, what we’re recommending, why it’s important, and how it’s going to affect their everyday lives.

My favorite patient care story is a four-year old with amblyopia, who had been unsuccessful with using patching and glasses. He came in, climbed up in the chair and said, “Well, doc, we’re doing contacts.” I looked at his mom, and she said, “We’ve discussed it.” So, we gave the young man contacts and I got to watch him grow up. He’s now an adult and sees 20/20. I like it when parents allow the kids to join in with their own healthcare. I think this makes a big difference with how the kids participate in doing what we're asking them to do.

Addressing Deeper Issues

During a comprehensive eye exam, if I see findings that may indicate a condition like diabetes, no matter the age, I first ask a lot of lifestyle questions about diet, exercise, and family history. Then, if we start to see things like big shifts in prescription or broken blood vessels in the back of the eye, we talk about the possibility of diabetes and the need for further testing. I make sure to coordinate with the patient’s primary care doctor or pediatrician to make sure they understand what I'm looking at, why it's important, and why I’m recommending the testing.

If I end up treating a child with a diagnosis like diabetes, education again comes into play. Sometimes the child is struggling with maintaining their blood sugar levels or maybe they're resisting following the healthcare routine because it's a new diagnosis and they're not interested in dealing with their vision fluctuating. Sitting down with the parent and child and explaining the importance of self-monitoring and the ramifications for not doing so is critical. Then, if the child is resistant to wearing glasses, I work with the parent and child on boundaries and modifying the treatment if needed. For example, we might test the child going to school without glasses for a week. If they get headaches and can’t do all their reading, we’ll agree to try something else. It’s important to work together and come up with a plan everyone agrees on. VSP has a great set of eLearnings on diabetic healthcare through Premier Academy360. I have watched almost all of them and gained a lot of information.

Strength in Partnership

VSP Global and the Premier Program, and resources like Academy360, have been invaluable to our practice and the way we care for our patients. It starts with patients finding us easily because of our Premier Program indicator on the “Find a Doctor” page on VSP.com. We also benefit from Premier Program partners that make it affordable to invest in the latest technology to evaluate and support the healthcare of our patients. What I like best about being part of the Premier Program is knowing there are people and staff within VSP who love their jobs and are willing to help us understand all the programs and opportunities. They come up with out-of-the-box ideas to help me grow and promote the practice so I can be successful and ultimately help and educate more patients. That’s really what it’s all about.

Our Role as Educators

As optometrists, we play an integral role in the healthcare management of our patients—adults and children alike. As I see it, taking the time to educate patients on their vision and health gives them the opportunity to experience their quality of life at a higher standard because their vision affects so many aspects of their life.

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