My mother and I both needed eye care recently: multifocal contact lenses for me, cataract surgery for her. Thinking about our experiences—mine with my long-time optometrist and hers at an unfamiliar ophthalmology practice—I was struck once again by how different the professions are. It also made me realize that optometrists should be mindful of retaining all that’s good about optometry even as they take on more of the care and characteristics of an ophthalmology practice.

In short, I got lots of time, attention and answers. My mom didn’t. 

With my presbyopia having advanced a bit, I needed a contact lens refit, so I went to the practice I’ve known for years. They had all my records from prior visits, knew that near vision tasks are a priority in my occupation and were able to update my prescription without much trouble. Free trial lenses and additional contact lens checks were built into the fitting fee. Again and again, they asked me if there was anything else they could do. And my optometrist literally hugged me goodbye when I left.

My mom went in for routine cataract surgery, only to learn she had a macular pucker in one eye, and left with a tricky postoperative prognosis. She’s now dealing with aniseikonia that gives her headaches  and binocular vision problems; she isn’t sure whether her vision can be corrected further or if she just has to “learn to live with it.” (She got the distinct impression that the latter was the take-home message.)

She was concerned enough about her surgical outcome that it took a second opinion from a retina specialist at Wills Eye to convince her that the surgery had in fact been done appropriately. While the surgery may not have been subpar, the patient education was. My mom didn’t know what to expect, what happened or what comes next. 

Obviously, millions of people get exceptional care at ophthalmology practices, and I have no doubt that thousands of patients at that particular practice have as well. But my mom’s experience left her frustrated and confused, with a sense that they lacked compassion. Maybe they couldn’t have done any better in the surgical suite, but they sure could have chairside and in the dispensary.

Stay True to Your Roots
This month’s focus on building a high-volume practice offers many ideas and insights that can help ODs see more patients. Throughout, our contributors keep returning to the same themes: hire more people, delegate more procedures, charge more money. In other words, be more like ophthalmology. 

Those are indeed great principles for growth and success. It’s where optometry seems inevitably to be headed. There’s no other way to meet the future eye care needs of a growing, aging population. Just make sure to keep patient education and satisfaction as paramount as ever. It is possible to see more patients without sacrificing what makes optometry unique.