Blog
Blog
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Blog
IDOC actively shares industry-focused articles, blog posts, podcasts, videos and other thought leadership with our members and other optometric practitioners. Below, you will find links to our growing library of educational materials and multi-media assets written and created by IDOC's team of seasoned industry experts.
Steve Vargo | 9/19/2018
DISPELLING MYTHS, AND MANAGING PATIENT SELF-DIAGNOSIS IN INDEPENDENT OPTOMETRY

Doctor, I see floaters in my vision. I think I have a retinal detachment!

I don’t need an exam because I did a screening online.

I put a moist teabag on my eye so it would heal faster.

I know I can’t have glaucoma because I smoke pot every day.

Did I get your attention with that last one? The truth is, these are all statements I’ve personally heard from patients. Welcome to the world of the Internet and self-diagnosis.

According to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, more than one-third of U.S. adults use the Internet to diagnose medical conditions. This includes people who look up information for someone else, but this probably accounts for the patient who thinks they have worms in their corneas because that’s what their Aunt Marge found on a Google search. The patient disagrees with Aunt Marge, certain that the problem is a contact lens that floated behind his eye.

Joking aside, problems from self-diagnosis are no laughing matter (although I must admit the pot comment caused me to audibly laugh). We do live in a world where information is extremely accessible. The problem with this reality is that much of this information, especially medical information, is often inaccurate, misleading, or simply does not provide enough context to come close to replacing a diagnosis from a trained professional. How many patients presenting for an exam with recent floaters expressed concern about losing their vision because they read something online? How many of those floater patients actually lost their vision? Information gleaned from the Internet causes many people to jump to the worse case scenario. Unfortunately, fear can be paralyzing and cause some people to avoid going to a doctor altogether.

The good news: According to the above referenced study, out of the people who go online for medical information, 46 percent said what they found online led them to believe they needed help from a medical professional. The bad news: Of the same group, 38 percent said they thought they could treat it at home. And while not every condition is an emergency, consider that less than half of the patients in the study said that a doctor confirmed their self-diagnosis. Only 1% claimed talking to a medical professional was “inconclusive.”

Enter social media, where suddenly anyone with a smartphone and a Facebook account can pretend to be a doctor. Why didn’t you come in sooner? Because a guy I’m Facebook friends with told me I was fine. I haven’t seen him since high school, but I recall him being smart at the time.

It’s time to get in front of this issue docs! Below are a few suggestions.

  • Educate your patients on reliable online medical resources. Evaluate sites carefully for bias and conflict of interest. Be sure the information is current (less than three years old) and check the author’s credentials to make sure the information is written by a health professional. If the patient is going to search online anyway, which is not a bad thing, make sure they are receiving accurate and reliable information.
  • Make yourself more accessible. It’s hard to fault patients for seeking outside help when they can’t get in to see you until after Thanksgiving (I’m writing this in September). For years, access to doctors was mostly confined to scheduled exam times. Maybe it’s time to rethink that? Are you available via HIPAA compliant email or other digital communications? I won’t get ahead of myself, but as telemedicine becomes more mainstream alternative forms of communication are likely to become much more common. Many of these inquiries will likely lead to in-office exams.
  • Reassure your patients that most eye conditions are treatable and do not lead to permanent vision loss if treated, preferably earlier than later. Putting off seeing a doctor due to anxiety over the diagnosis is understandable, but also unwise. When it comes to self-diagnosis, one of my least favorite things to tell patients was, “I wish you had come in earlier.”
  • Share stories. We probably all have at least a few stories of patients who opted to allow Dr. Google to treat their condition and the outcome was less than satisfactory. Maybe even tragic? Stories are powerful, relatable and memorable. Patients need to understand that this is not simply a doctor being overly cautious. Vision damage from self-(mis)diagnosis and postponed treatment is a real possibility.
  • Be patient. Admit it, when a patient opens with “I was looking online,” you brace yourself for the worst. You’re ready to shoot down the very next word that comes out of their mouth! Instead, use the opportunity to focus on breathing exercises and happy thoughts as the patient recounts an article they read on how standing on one leg can cure glaucoma. Don’t be immediately dismissive or annoyed (at least not visibly). The patient is not a doctor. The patient should leave your office feeling much wiser, not belittled.

Often times, better communication goes a long way to divert patients from an overreliance on self-diagnosis. And while I poked a little fun at some of my previous patients, let me now turn the table on myself. In my 2nd year of optometry school we leaned about brain tumors and how one of the symptoms was “the worst headache of your life.” Guess who got the worst headache of his life 2 weeks later? Guess who spent the next couple weeks at Barnes & Noble Bookstore (early Internet days) pouring through medical references?

I’ve been there, and there’s a good chance you’ve been there too. Be empathetic. Be understanding. But don’t miss an opportunity to educate.

To see how IDOC's membership plans can help grow your page, see below. For more content like this, head back to our blog

 

Steve Vargo
Practice Management Consultant
Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a 1998 graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. After working in a clinical optometric practice for several years, Dr. Vargo pursued his passion for practice management by earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2008. A published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, he serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant and advises members in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. Steve and his wife Melanie have two sons, Lucas and Ryan. In his spare time, he enjoys running, cycling, sports and music. A native Chicagoan, he is an avid fan of the Cubs, live music and deep-dish pizza.
 LinkedIn
Trending Blogs
 
 

1/14/2021 | Author: Ximara Vega

Every year people tend to make goals for the upcoming new year. Somehow a new year inspires others to reinvent themselves in some way and like most initiatives, they lose their luster after a few weeks. I was supposed have rock hard abs like 3 years in a row. If ever... Read more


10/15/2020 | Author: Geronda Wollack

A friend of mine was out in the job market and applied for a job as a Dental Assistant. She called me for some advice around interviewing, and during our conversation, she mentioned a shocking reality. She said, "Geronda, there were a few companies that I was interested in, but the job... Read more


9/24/2020 | Author: Maddie Langston

By now, most of us are familiar with online reviews and understand their reach and influence, particularly on Google, Facebook, and Yelp. As a marketing consultant at IDOC, I work with optometry practice owners and managers to increase the number of new patients at the practice, retain... Read more


9/11/2020 | Author: Geronda Wollack

During a phone call with my favorite sister (now, let's not share this with anyone else), she shared the following sentiment with me, "I was just as excited for my kids to go back to school this year, until I realized that I have one kid staying home and doing virtual learning and the... Read more


8/13/2020 | Author: Maddie Langston

Let’s say one day after an exam and a visit in your optical, a patient reviews their experience on your Google business listing and Yelp.

The review includes many details which makes it clear to anyone reading that they visited the practice, had an exam, and worked with an optician.... Read more


8/7/2020 | Author: Ximara Vega

Take a step back and think about your business. Are you in tune with the performance of your optical? Are you achieving your desired results? If not from you, where are your patient’s purchasing their eyewear? Why? How do your offerings compare to your competition? Investigate, by... Read more


8/7/2020 | Author: Nathan Hayes

“I’m shockingly flush with cash. My checking account balance is fantastic.”

This isn’t what I expected to hear on the tail end of the most prolonged economic catastrophe of our lifetime. But many practices, after leaning out all their expenses during the... Read more


8/7/2020 | Author: Nathan Hayes

“I’m thinking of selling my practice.”

“Should I sell my practice now while prices are at all-time highs? How long does the private equity phenomenon last?”

Practice owners often focus on market trends in the pricing of practices when deciding when and whether to sell. Let me... Read more


7/17/2020 | Author: Patricia Basile

Careful frame and lens purchasing habits are needed in an unpredictable time.

Many optometric practices are experiencing a surge in eyewear purchases due to pent-up demand and the ability to... Read more


6/23/2020 | Author: Patricia Basile

Capture rate is a key performance indicator; possibly the most significant component in measuring and increasing revenue per patient. Capture rate can be influenced by several factors. The good news is that you can have an impact on all of them.

Multiple Pairs:... Read more

© 2020 IDOC. All Rights Reserved