During a recent trip to the pharmacy to pick up some medication for my daughter, I overheard an interesting conversation between the person in line in front of me and the pharmacy technician behind the counter:

Do you know if I can use this drop with my contact lenses?, the patient asked the technician.

It should say so right on the bottle, the technician responded. Grabbing the bottle, she took a closer look and added, No, you can’t—it says right here. Go over to aisle four instead, that’s where all the contact lens stuff is. You should be able to find something for your needs there. What do you need it for, anyway?

My right contact lens has been bothering me for the last few days, the patient admitted.

Oh. Aisle four should have something for that, the technician directed.

Silent Partners
Though only two are present in this chapter, this story in fact has four main characters: the patient, the pharmacy technician, the patient’s doctor and the doctor’s staff. Assuming for a moment that there actually is something wrong with the previous exchange, the question to ask is: Which of the four participants is most at fault for the problem? 

Most individuals may agree that it is not the patient. Though the pharmacy technician possibly overstepped her boundaries in a few areas, she is also not the culprit. She deserves points for instructing the patient to read the label, but she really should not have recommended a drop to decrease the patient’s problem, or at least she should have added that if the patient experienced further problems, then he should contact his doctor.

Considering the patient’s doctor and the doctor’s staff, the first thought is possibly to blame the presumed lack of patient education: that is, if someone at the practice had told the patient that if his contact lenses ever bothered him, he should remove them and call the practice immediately to avert the need to visit the pharmacy for eye drops entirely. However, based on the data from consultations conducted for hundreds of practices, nearly all practices out there mention this as part of their general contact lens fitting appointment. So, then, why didn’t this patient call his eye care provider?

Making an Impression
First and foremost, it may be that stating to the patient that he should call you if he ever has a problem with his lenses is not a strong enough method to stick in the patient’s mind long-term. 

Consider instead what would happen if you called each of your patients every day and reinforced the message that they should contact you if they have a problem. Nonsensical though it may be, it would drive the point home and indicate that some amount of repetition can ensure each patient knows what directions to follow and how to combat a problem.

However, it’s more than likely that the patient also didn’t call for another reason. Assuming that he was already in the pharmacy to pick up something else, it’s more convenient to pick up something to use for his issue right then and there, rather than first calling the practice to see if it’s even a good idea to do so in the first place.

Changing the Thought Process
After instituting some form of repetitive education at the practice for contact lens care, informing patients that the practice has resources available for other aspects of lens wear—including ways to satisfy interest in other lens designs, alleviate concerns regarding infections or clear up confusion with regards to the selection of lens solution—is also a good idea. 

Stress to them that they are more than welcome to call, email, text or visit the practice’s website to look for information at any time; however, also make sure you have the information readily available, accurate and up-to-date for when they do come looking. Additionally, make sure that the practice’s staff is capable of quickly and accurately addressing any questions or concerns they may receive.

Finally, keep in mind that, unfortunately, convenience will probably trump loyalty every time. But, knowing this, we should still educate patients regarding clinical concerns and also that the practice is available to help them however they need.