Transcript: ODs can better connect with patients through stories

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Gretchyn Bailey, NCLC, FAAO: Hi, everyone. I’m Gretchyn Bailey with Optometry Times®. And today I have the pleasure of speaking with Colette Carlson. She is a professional speaker and human behavior expert. She talks with people about how to transform relationships through the power of connected conversations. And she is doing that now with the CLI, the Contact Lens Institute. Colette, welcome. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

Colette Carlson: Oh, thank you, Gretchyn.

Bailey: I know you are talking with the CLI and eye care practitioners about how to better communicate with their patients. And the best way to do that is through the power of storytelling. Can you give me some tips on what optometrists should be thinking about when talking with their patients and how to incorporate storytelling into that conversation, knowing that doctors have a very limited time window with their patients?

Carlson: Absolutely. So keep in mind that stories are sticky, they go past our head, and they go straight into our heart. They are memorable. Data isn’t emotional, stories are.

All day long, eye care practitioners are listening to individuals’ stories, their interests, their values, situations that they have with their eyes. These are great stories that they can then tell another patient. I would encourage eye care practitioners when they hear a really good story from a patient to share with other patients. It could be someone who all of a sudden was having difficulty seeing. Then they got a particular contact lens, maybe it had UVA protection within it. And all of a sudden, now they could enjoy the outdoors once more.

Well, that is a great story. You never have to say, “Jeannie Jones told me.” It can simply be, “Are you interested in hearing about one of my patients who was in a similar situation with bright light and how she overcame it?” Then you get permission to share and launch into the story. Here is what happened and here is what I did as an eye care practitioner to change the situation. And here is the result of that.

So, this is what people are going to remember when they leave that chair, go home that evening, and discuss whether or not they want to get a new type of lens or invest in a different product or service. They are going to use that same story to then sell and share with everybody else in their family because they can remember it. That is the power of a story.

Bailey: That's a good point that they will remember the story of the patient, especially if that was similar to their own experience, as opposed to, “Well, I have found that many patients find that blah blah blah.” It is more personal.

So, how can doctors build this connection, and encourage the trust with their patients, when they're sitting in a dark room, and they have patients backed up, they might be seeing a patient every 10, 15, or 20 minutes, depending upon the practice schedule? How can doctors squeeze that in, in addition to doing all of the clinical testing that needs to be done during an eye examination?

Carlson: Slow down to go fast is what I believe. It is a matter of choosing to practice presence in that moment, which is paying attention on purpose in the present moment. The benefit of doing that is you are not ruminating on just what happened, living life in the past lane of what another patient who just walked out the door and having that on your mind. Nor are you being concerned about the patients out sitting in the lobby who you haven’t had an opportunity to visit with yet. You are just in the now.

I always say that if you are in the now flip that n-o-w around, it is w-o-n, you have won in that moment because you are fully with that individual. There are 3 benefits of practicing presence.

The first one is you eliminate the likelihood that you are going to make a mistake because you are not multitasking. You are single focused. Practicing presence is the opposite of multitasking. Now, I also know that eye care practitioners can do what I will call a low-level activity at the same time as they are engaging in a conversation. So they are able perhaps to do the glaucoma test and have a side conversation. When they are doing the, you know, slide A-slide B one [subjective refraction], they have to be very focused in that moment, but they can pause within it if they feel a need to have a deeper conversation or address the situation. So, they are going to make fewer mistakes.

Second, that individual in the chair is going to feel seen, heard, valued, and validated. If there is anything people are clamoring for in today’s world, it is to feel seen. When you allow that to happen and unfold, now you have built a connection.

The third thing I already mentioned, which is the practitioner is going to have less stress because, again, they're not freaking out about the future, or ruminating with life in the past, staying there in the now. That to me is the best way to make it happen. Then when that’s done, they can now practice presence with the next situation, an individual, and stay focused.

Bailey: Those are some really good tips, especially about how to stay in the now because I know that doctors are frequently crunched for time. And they do want that connection with patients, but they are jst mindful of, well, I had to fit in an emergency. And now I am behind. And I have 4 patients out there. And I have to bring this one back after she dilated, and it is a lot going on. So, those are very, very important things to remember. And I think stories are sticky. That is easy to remember, too, that is sticky itself.

Carlson: It is And may I may I add that we think we are faking people out, but we are not. People are intuitive. In fact, I had this lesson very early on in my life. I was a very busy mother. I was reading a particular story book to my daughters before they went to bed. It was Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I was reading it. I felt just like I had read it every night before. And my oldest grabbed my arm, and she said, “Mommy, you’re not reading it the same way.” The whole time, I am thinking about the flight I had to get on the next morning. I thought, “Wow, I thought I was faking it really well here.”, I was on autopilot, and she felt it. So, I think that we know when somebody is on autopilot. And that is what creates the disconnect. So it is about really being present in the moment.

Bailey: Very good advice. Colette, thank you so much for your time today.

Carlson:You’re absolutely welcome. My pleasure to be here.

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