Patient-Facing Materials Are Additive in Patients’ Education

By Lawrence Woodard, MD

Modern cataract surgery has become an amazingly complex and nuanced process. On one hand, the various technologies we use in the preoperative workup and in the OR lend themselves to greater predictability in the final vision outcome, better efficiency, and an enhanced facility to ensure patients are satisfied with their experience. Yet, the downside of this sophistication is that patients need to be equipped with more information than ever before in a limited amount of time.

Keeping in mind that the enhanced pressure to educate patients about cataract surgery is, indeed, a very good problem to have, there is nevertheless often a disconnect between what we can reasonably convey during the patient encounter and what needs to be communicated to properly set expectations and guide decision making. One way we may be able to bridge this divide is to devise multiple layers of education that are organized and deliberate, and which convey consistent messaging at every step. From the referring optometrist, to the inhouse staff (front office personnel and technicians), and including patient educators and/or surgeons, everyone needs to be on the same page to maintain efficiency and accuracy of information.

In our practice, we make regular use of patient-facing materials that are provided prior to the appointment so that patients come into the practice prepared with questions and ready to make decisions. We feel this approach has myriad benefits. First and foremost, we believe that a well-informed patient is our best consumer, especially with respect to advanced technology lenses that require out-of-pocket expenditures.

As well, distributing materials before the appointment gives patients time to think about their options, to research the technology, and to formulate questions and concerns. From the patient’s perspective, the stress of thinking about cataract surgery may interfere with the ability to retain the information being provided; that information may resonate much better when it can be digested at one’s own leisure. Additionally, carefully crafted content that is reviewed prior to the appointment, and before we talk about cost, tends to avoid the perception that we are trying to sell them something.

As a surgically oriented ophthalmic practice, patients enter our clinic via referral from community optometrists and other eye care providers. Thus, we do not necessarily have the burden of having to educate about a cataract diagnosis, which gives us an opportunity to work with our referral sources to start directed education early in the process. The materials we use are multiple, including brochures that outline the mission of our practice and our specialties. We find that the more a patient knows about the office and about the doctor who they are seeing, the more comfortable and more attached to that doctor they feel before they enter the office.

We also have materials that describe the technologies that we use to help patients through cataract surgery. These do not contain infinitesimal detail about every little machine we have, but, rather, outline that we have a femtosecond laser and that we have the supporting instruments to help that laser best deliver the outcome that the patient desires. As well, our materials describe the different lens implant options in a very general fashion.

Once the referral source calls our office to schedule an appointment for the patient, we get the patient’s email address so we can send an introduction to our practice as well as patient information forms that we want them to fill out before they enter the office (an important time-saving mechanism). We also send links to portions of our website that educate about cataracts and about different lens implants, thereby providing another touch point for the options we offer.

With so many moving parts in our education process, there is a risk of confusing the patient. One way we try to avoid that is to have our referral sources provide general information and not recommendations. We feel it is important for them to gear education toward piquing patients’ interest and getting them thinking about their postoperative goals. The optometrists we work with in the community are excellent at developing relationships with patients—so, who better to have a fruitful discussion about the kind of vision the patient wants to achieve?

This sort of education model actually relates back to many of the principles we already follow in the integrated care model, wherein specialists are trusted to perform their role and in which we all share in the delivery of patient-focused care. When the system works, it is like a well-oiled machine, and my role in the cataract surgery process becomes that much simpler. Instead of spending time reiterating education points, I can use my expertise to guide patients to a proper lens selection and then use the technology at my disposal to help them achieve the vision they want.

Lawrence Woodard, MD
• board-certified ophthalmologist and medical director of Omni Eye Services of Atlanta
• financial disclosure: consultant to Alcon and Glaukos