Communication skills and building client rapport in your optometrist job is one of those topics that as an optometry student you don’t take too seriously and over look, or at least I did! After all, most of it seems like common sense, but it’s quite easy to forget how you come across to patients when you’re stressing over your next visit, all those referrals that need writing and how late you’re running with the clinic!
Over the past few months in my Pre-reg job, I have realized how much these ‘people skills’ matter in the career, and how adapting the way you communicate with patients reflects on advice/recommendations followed and customer feedback (Maze mentions for all you Specsavers Pre-reg’s!).
Below I have listed 5 steps, what I believe are the main factors when building client rapport in your optical job and setting a good and lasting impression:
- First impressions happen outside your testing room
You must have heard the ‘7 second rule’ on setting a first impression. A good confident introduction is the first chance at winning over your patient so this is key (unless you do your own pre-screen in which case you get a lot longer!) This short period of time also gives you a first impression of your patient so that you can start tailoring how you conduct the test to your patient type. Body language and appearances also help you make that impression - if you went to see a health care professional, wouldn’t you expect them to look the part?
- Organized room = organized you
Organization in the room means less clutter and a smoother running test. This can be anything from ensuring rubbish is disposed of appropriately, surfaces are wiped down, confidential paperwork is tidied away and a tidy trial set. The tidy room also helps you to come across as an organized individual.
- Adapt your routine when needed
This is mostly applicable to younger children - Building up the patient’s confidence at the start of the test by talking about interests or doing more fun tests such as stereo or colour vision might be better than going straight in with cover test or VA’s where they may shy away and refuse to let you close to them. Orthoptists often use thumbs or the back of the hand for a quick cover test on very young children as it is less foreign and you can stabilize the head at the same time. Small toys or homemade character fixation sticks also work better for motility. Don’t forget, parents can always join in on the sight test – get them to point at the letters on the chart or hold the child’s head still if needed. Stickers will forever work well as a bribe!
- Tailor how you word your advice, recommendations and explanations
One of the main ways in which patient rapport will be built is based on how you communicate verbally with your patient. Everyone has their own way of simplifying advice/information they give to patients and they reuse them with different patients. A good way of picking some of these lines up is by sitting in with different optometrists and CL optician’s. Also, don’t assume that everyone knows what words like ‘retina’ or ‘glaucoma’ mean (Use those layman’s terms!) Stay stocked up with diagrams and leaflets because they will regularly come in handy. The College of Optometrists provide a large variety of leaflets, amsler charts, stickers and so on to be used for patient care that can easily be ordered online.
I attended at a course recently and one of the activities I did was to break down common conditions into easily understood terms such as Dry AMD can be described as ‘natural age-related wear and tear at the back of the eye’. Having previously thought about wording conditions or advice, I find it easier and more natural when the patient is in my testing room.
- Good handover that repeats all the important bits
In the 40-60 minutes you spend with your patients as Pre-reg, its quite easy to forget how much you will have talked about and done. A good concise handover is necessary so that the patient can leave your room without any confusion or miscommunication. A fair few of your elderly patients may have a lot going on so running through the important parts ensures it is understood and opens an opportunity for any questions or worries they have.
In conclusion, Pre-reg gives you have time to talk and get to know patients – this should be used to your advantage. In my experience, patients don’t mind the fact that you are a Pre-reg and take up to 60 minutes to test if the conversation is flowing, the test is organized and running smoothly, and they leave understanding any advice you have given them. Just remember, you will sometimes come across those awkward or grumpy patients that nobody can win over. From the few I have encountered – stick to the point, don’t try and be funny (it’s get very awkward very quickly! Avoid those awkward silences) and ask more closed questions to get the information you require.
If you’re going to take anything away – smile! It instantly makes you so much more approachable.