Patients entering an ophthalmic practice have many things on their minds. They are about to entrust their sight, one of their most important possessions, to the trained professionals they will encounter at this visit. Surgery is always a source of stress and anxiety for individuals, no matter how supposedly minor the procedure. Patients may be concerned about finances, being able to afford a new pair of glasses or contact lenses, or an even larger outlay such as the out-of-pocket expenses for an elective refractive surgical procedure.
For these and other reasons, it is vital for ophthalmologists to make the patient’s experience as easy, calm, and welcoming as possible. At Medipolis, we do everything we can to design a patient experience that will be pleasant and stressfree for the patient. This effort begins before the patient ever sets foot in the clinic.
When patients call to make an appointment, we send an informational brochure, either by mail or e-mail, to prepare them for that first visit. The brochure describes the services we offer and prompts the patient with questions about what he or she may be looking for from us. Do you need glasses or contact lenses? Do you want to get rid of your glasses or contact lenses? Do you have a cataract? The brochure lists the procedures available at our center, including laser refractive surgery, phakic IOLs and refractive lens exchange, premium IOLs for cataract surgery, and other services.
There are also tips about how to prepare for a preoperative consultation, such as to be sure to bring a driver and remove contact lenses for a period before the visit, and there is a description of what will happen when the patient comes to the clinic. All of this is useful to prepare the patient mentally for the visit, so that he or she knows what to expect and is not overwhelmed when walking through the door.
THE FIRST VISIT
When the patient does walk through that door, the front of the clinic is designed to be a welcoming environment. Many patients have told me that it looks more like a hotel lobby than like a clinic (Figure 1). They like it because it helps to soothe their anxiety and calm them before proceeding to the examination rooms.
The office is carpeted throughout to keep down the noise level and provide a warm feeling. If someone is building a practice, this is an excellent pearl: Put in carpet. In our previous practice setting, we did not have carpet, and it makes a notable difference.
The carpet that we purchased is specifically manufactured for use in hospitals and other public settings; it meets requirements in terms of fire resistance and hygiene maintenance. It has been in place for 6 years now, and it continues to look brand new. The carpet is made in segments that can be taken up and replaced if they are damaged; the seams between segments, however, are not noticeable. I think the addition of carpet has been an important feature in giving patients a good feeling about the practice.
Each patient is assigned to one of three patient coordinators, who then follow him or her throughout the experience with the clinic—not just at the first consultation but throughout the entire surgical experience. The same coordinator accompanies the patient through the flow of the clinic, presents any needed explanation about surgery, and then sees the patient again on the day of surgery, both pre- and postoperatively. If the patient has questions before or problems after surgery, he or she can call or send an e-mail to the designated patient coordinator. Each patient becomes familiar with his or her coordinator, and this is another factor that is helpful to calm the patient’s nerves during the process.
Staff education is also important. When the patient is proceeding through his or her visits and talking to optometrists or the technical staff, he or she must hear the same story from everyone who is encountered. We provide education to staff members about the procedures we offer, so that everyone is on the same page and uses similar language in answering patients’ questions. The staff appreciates appreciates the efforts we take in this regard, and I can see the results when patients come into my exam room smiling. They are happy because they have had good interactions with the staff, and they understand that the kind of surgery they are interested in provides good results.
THE SURGICAL EXPERIENCE
On the day of surgery, there is a waiting room with free Wi-Fi. Patients can also watch television or go online and play games on our video screens (Figure 2). There is fruit on every table, and patients can get a cup of coffee or tea or another beverage. All of these amenities serve to calm the nerves; it is a completely different experience from most clinics.
The same patient coordinator who was with the patient at the initial consultation will be there for the patient the day of surgery. He or she will explain how to use the preoperative drops and chat with the patient for 10 to 15 minutes. Then the patient goes into the operating room (OR), where a nurse takes care of him or her; when the patient returns to the waiting room, the same patient coordinator is there, waiting to bring him or her to a chair.
There is continuous interaction between staff and patients. A patient is never left alone on surgery day. Someone from the staff is with the patient at all times, whether in the waiting or operating room. This is because when they are alone, worry can intrude into their thoughts. It means a great deal to a patient to be constantly accompanied on this potentially stressful day.
In addition to projecting a welcoming feel, we also want our clinic to reflect a high-tech image. A high-tech feel helps to build confidence that the patient is dealing with a modern clinic offering the latest technologies. We work a lot with iPads (Apple); they are used to enter patient information, administer questionnaires and patient-satisfaction surveys, and provide patient education. The iPad is handy, for example, to show animations of surgery.
We also recently updated the look of our website. It has always presented helpful information for patients, but it was rather plain. Now we have added more images focusing on the individuals in the practice. In addition to eye surgery, Medipolis also offers plastic surgery and dentistry, and we now include images of all physicians who practice at Medipolis, which helps to build trust for the patient.
We are about to go a step further into the high-tech world, as we plan to meet soon with a Belgian company called Digitopia (www.digitopia.be) that specializes in ultrathin LED displays. We have flat-screen televisions in the waiting room now, but we want something more modern. We do not know exactly what shape this new project will take, but we are currently brainstorming ideas.
Recently we updated our informational brochures. On the last page, as medical director of Medipolis, I tell readers that our practice is now certified by Kiwa, an independent body, and that ours is the only practice in Belgium with this certificate. It is one thing to assert that we follow the guidelines that every other practice must follow but quite another to say that an independent body has certified our performance. This is a powerful and reassuring message for patients.
Beyond this, however, the patient experience is enhanced by the personal care they receive at our practice. Often patients say to me that, at another medical facility, they felt like No. 45 patient for the day—like they were given a number at a lunch counter and have to wait in line for their care. At our practice, there are no numbers. Each patient is an individual and is treated as such. This personal approach to care makes a tremendous difference in the patient experience and is one of the reasons why our practice remains successful.
THE PATIENT PERSPECTIVE
An Interview With Pascal Ommerli
Ophthalmologists interface with patients regularly; however, it is not every day that they get the opportunity to experience the preoperative surgery process from a patient’s point of view. In an interview with CRST Europe, one patient, Pascal Ommerli, shares his experience undergoing preoperative assessment for vision correction surgery at Medipolis in Antwerp, Belgium. CRST Europe Chief Medical Editor Erik L. Mertens, MD, FEBOphth, will be performing the procedure.
What visual complaints did you have that caused you to seek medical attention?
As a hyperope with astigmatism, closing in on 40, I needed correction for all distances and I simply could not stand glasses any longer; I needed to change this for me. My vision suffered at all ranges, I was not a big fan of contact lenses, and I just felt more constricted in my vision as I got older.
How did you select Medipolis? What kind of research had you done on this and other centers in order to choose the appropriate practice for your needs?
Having been in the ophthalmology industry for more than a decade, I was aware of nearly all of the available vision correction options. Unfortunately, with the anatomy of my eye, not all of these options were applicable to me, such as the Visian ICL (STAAR Surgical), for which I had hoped I would be a candidate. Because I did not want to have any treatment on my cornea, I opted for refractive lens exchange.
I was also familiar with the top refractive surgeons and clinics around the world, and Medipolis had always presented a large body of excellent outcomes over the years. I have known Dr. Mertens for a long time; getting my eyes done anywhere else than Medipolis was not an option.
What was your first impression of the initial contact (telephone, e-mail, etc.) you had with the staff of Medipolis?
Since I knew what options were available, my first contact was simple: a basic invitation for an eye evaluation. When I had questions, I communicated by e-mail, and the responses were always sent quickly and completely. I also visited the center’s website several times, and it gave a great impression, mainly because it is user-friendly and easy to understand.
Did your first impression reflect the experience you had when you arrived at the center?
This is when I knew I had made the right decision. The moment I stepped into the clinic, I was greeted by name. The initial process was so easy and took a mere 5 minutes. The modern design fit perfectly with my idea of how the clinic would look.
What did Dr. Mertens and the staff of Medipolis do to enhance your experience?
The process and the layout of all the different steps needed to evaluate my eyes was, simply put, psychologically genius. I was treated like a VIP at Medipolis, and the various waiting areas after each examination never gave me the feeling that I had been put on hold. Each area is designed well, with many things to do while waiting for the next step of the process. With a free beverage station and Wi-Fi, the waiting time seemed minimal. The process was absolutely flawless.
Please describe anything that really stood out to you about the care that you received.
Professionalism and friendliness are key. I was always addressed by name, which gave me the feeling the staff was there just for me. Also, the optometrists and patient coordinator explained each step as it happened.
The equipment was top-notch; I had never had such a thorough ocular exam. I also never felt like my questions were bothering them. Every minute I spent in Medipolis, my doubts about having surgery there faded.
Were there any areas that did not enhance your experience as a patient?
No, not at all—my experience in Medipolis was perfect.
What do you think is the most important lesson surgeons should consider when interacting with their patients?
I think surgeons are sometimes a bit detached from the anxiety of patients about letting anyone touch their eyes. Removing that almost primal fear is probably the key. A surgeon and his or her staff members who give you the feeling of being in the right hands are capable of sealing the deal right away.
Pascal Ommerli has worked in the ophthalmology field for more than a decade. He is currently self-employed as an IT consultant specializing in project management and has previously worked for STAAR Surgical.
- A carpeted space not only creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere but also cuts down on noise.
- At Medipolis, a dedicated patient coordinator is assigned to follow a patient through the first consultation and the entire the surgical experience.
- When patients are proceeding through their visits and talking to optometrists or the technical staff, they must hear the same story from everyone they encounter.
Erik L. Mertens, MD, FEBOphth, is Medical Director of Medipolis, Antwerp, Belgium, and a Co-Chief Medical Editor of CRST Europe. He states that he has no financial interest in the instruments or techniques he describes. Dr. Mertens may be reached at tel: +32 3 828 29 49; e-mail: email@example.com.