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Eye Conditions

Tips to Explaining Eye Conditions to Patients in a Language They Understand

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Explaining eye conditions to patients is an inevitable part of your profession as an optometrist, ophthalmologist, or other eye care professional. It is also quite important for you to do so in a language they understand. Imagine having to talk to your patient about ocular diseases such as ARMD, cataract, astigmatism, or glaucoma; and they cannot relate to a thing you're saying.

While it could be challenging, especially after years of studies involving the use of complex medical terms and jargons, you'll eventually master the art with daily practice and years of experience under your belt. In the meantime, use the following tips to explain eye conditions to your patients in a language they can  understand..

Gauge the Patient's Level of Understanding

Each patient is unique and so is their level of education and understanding. Breaking the ice with them and allowing them to speak or ask questions will help you to gauge them and decide how you'll respond. To keep things simple, you can start your explanation by naming the problem, where it's located (an eye model is useful here), and how it can be managed or treated. There's no need for textbook language. Just communicate on their level — except if your patient is a fellow optometry student or an optometrist. You get the gist.

Use Simple Words

It is not unusual for patients to bring someone along to their appointment. It may not be just for the company. It could be to help them interpret or understand what you're saying. Therefore, always be mindful to use simple words or layman terms (as far as possible) when explaining eye conditions to patients or test results.

For example, when talking to your patient about glaucoma affecting their eyes, instead of saying "There is a disease affecting your optic nerve," you can say "You have trouble seeing due to a problem with the nerve in the back of your eye." Also, try to keep your explanations as short as possible. This will prevent confusion or overloading the patient with information that is not necessary or difficult to remember.

Speak Slowly and Clearly

The more patients know about their condition, the more likely they are to carry through with treatment and care. But communication barriers in the clinical setting between doctor and patient has been a source of frustration in patients.

You can avoid this — not only by using plain language but also— by speaking slowly and clearly, so your patients can follow what you're saying. One benefit of doing this is it can help them to be more open about the symptoms they are experiencing which may, in turn, help you to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Arm Yourself with an Eye Model

While collecting the equipment and tools of your trade from Keeler, remember to grab an eye model. Think of how efficiently you can communicate an eye problem, e.g., ARMD, to your patient by simply pointing to the model and saying "This is where the problem is."

There will be no need to say "You're experiencing vision loss because the macula in the retina of your eye has deteriorated." Your patient may be more at ease when they see the effort you make to help them understand what's causing their problems and how treatment can help. A sense of clarity may also encourage them to follow your direction on treatment and home eye care.

Offer Your Patient a Pamphlet

Since you'll be keeping your explanations short and to the point, offering your patient a pamphlet can help to fill in the blanks. They can take the leaflet home and read it in their spare time. Let's say they have astigmatism which is a common vision condition that affects approximately 85% of the population.

During your consultation with the patient, you can explain the reason things appear blurry to them is because the curves of their eyes are not shaped as they should be. The patient can then read more on the condition and treatment options from the in-depth information supplied in the brochure.

Short sentences, simple words, bulleted lists, and illustrations can help to simplify the info. An alternative is to provide the patient with one or more links to online resources regarding the eye condition or disease.

Additional Tips for Explaining Eye Conditions to Patients

Other tips to keep in mind

  • Actively listen to your patients
  • Make eye contact
  • Be patient with your patient
  • Use positive words when delivering test results
  • Provide a safe and compassionate environment
  • Reassure your patient that treatment can help
  • Let them know you are there to discuss concerns or answer questions

Contact Keeler Ophthalmic Instruments 

Explaining eye conditions to patients may or may come natural to you. However, the goal is to keep your patient "in the know" by using plain, everyday language they are far more likely to understand. Regardless of the results you have to break to them concerning their vision, they can leave your office confident they know what's happening and how it can be corrected. They'll also feel they can trust you to provide further guidance and will likely return for a follow up than to visit a new eye care specialist.

Contact Keeler today for the best eye exam and diagnostic equipment.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.