Following three tips in communication ensures a win-win for patients and physicians
As eye care professionals, we come into this industry to give the world sight. The reality is that some cultures are not getting the quality eye care they deserve. The fact is that we live in a diverse world. If we live in a metropolitan area or large city, we probably see patients with different ethnic backgrounds daily.
Ahead of 2020, the US Census Bureau1 estimated that international migration would add 1 person to the country’s population every 34 seconds. We see this reflected in our eye care industry when we examine our patients.
The opportunity to build valuable relationships with patients of different cultures confronts us daily. But we cannot have sustainable relationships with our multicultural patients without cultural competence.
In health care, cultural competence is defined as “the ability of systems to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs, and behaviors, including the tailoring of health care delivery to meet patients’ social, cultural and linguistic needs.”2
Without this competence, it is impossible to build a doctor-patient eye care relationship with our multicultural patients.
In late 2020, the Vision Council announced results from the annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion survey analysis.
The comprehensive report is available to download at no cost on The Vision Council’s website, along with other specific reports highlighting data from different industry segments.
According to the results, 89% of optometric students in academia who responded to the survey indicated that they believed it is important to focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity across all aspects of optometry.
Based on the findings, there is room for growth in the optical industry, academia, corporate optometry, and private practices; among suppliers and manufacturers; and in other industry groups.
Implementing small changes in your optical practice can make a big difference in terms of caring for patients of different cultures. Although it will take time to make changes—and it won’t happen overnight—positive change is possible.
The goal is to remove barriers between you and your multicultural patients so that they feel comfortable and confident sharing their vision concerns.
As their eye care professionals, you can help by creating a welcoming patient experience.
There is no doubt that communicating effectively and accurately with patients is a recipe for success. It is the best way to provide them with stellar vision care.
What are some actions you can take right now to make your optical practice multicultural friendly?
Reduce or remove language barriers between you and your patients. There are a couple of ways to achieve this:
Learn to conduct an eye exam in the patient’s language to the best of your ability. For example, organizations such as the American Optometric Association have a downloadable document called “Communicating with Spanish-speaking patients step-by-step.”3
Most patients will appreciate the fact that you are trying, even if you don’t have perfect pronunciation or have a terrible accent.
Start using Rosetta Stone or other online resources to learn how to perform eye exams in another language. If you do not have time to learn another language, you can hire multilingual staff and scribes.
Keep in mind that you should avoid cultural blindness by having a basic understanding of your own culture.
Develop a willingness to learn about the cultural practices and worldview of patients, adopt a positive attitude toward cultural differences, and practice a readiness to accept and respect those differences.4
“There are variations within a language,” said Lina T. Arango, OD, of Vicle Eye Care in Miami, Florida. “Just because Spanish may be spoken in most of Latin America, many of the words used for vision can vary within each area.”
For example, a simple word like eyeglasses may be called something completely different in each country: “Ante ojos” (Mexico), “os óculos” (Portuguese for Brazil), “gafas” (Latin America but used interchangeably for ophthalmic eyeglasses and or sunglasses), and so on. Figure out the best word to use with each patient to create better patient-doctor communication.
Be aware of the frame collections you offer your patients. Make sure the selection is aligned with the patients you see, their optical needs, and their facial features. If you are looking for a frame collection that caters to diverse patients, check out the following:
Offering a frame collection with styles and colors to suit patients’ skin tones and facial features is imperative. Not all eyewear is created equal. Some patients require a universal fit, wider frame styles, or longer temples.
Frame companies such as Coco and Breezy, La Vida Eyewear (Figures 1-5), l.a. Eyeworks, Lindberg, and Etnia Barcelona do a phenomenal job at providing point-of-purchase (POP) materials with imagery that is inclusive and reflects diversity.
When patients see themselves reflected in the imagery around your practice, they will feel more comfortable. Ask your current frame representatives if their company provides POP materials with diverse models. If they do not, suggest they consider this factor when they have their next marketing campaign.
Provide eye health resources in both digital and print in patients’ native languages to increase their comfort levels.
Below are some great digital resources for your patients:
AllAboutVision.com has launched Spanish translations of their most popular articles in its Eye Conditions & Diseasessection.9
The National Eye Institute’s National Eye Health Education Program provides digital and printed resources in English and Spanish for low-vision patients.10
TransitionsPro.com11 offers resources for your practice’s marketing as well as for your patients to take home.
Patient brochures – English and Spanish versions
Closing the communication gap between you and your multicultural patients is important to provide the best vision care possible. Before patients leave your office, make sure they feel confident about their vision consultation and eye examination with you and that their vision needs have been met.
This is a win-win situation because happy patients lead to word-of-mouth recommendations, which is the most cost-effective method of marketing.
In addition, you can help make an entire family feel welcome and ensure their return every year for all their vision needs.