We’ve all been there—whether it’s at the dentist, the dealership, or somewhere completely different, there’s a good chance you’ve paid for a service you didn’t fully understand. It happens all too commonly, particularly in today’s warp-speed world, and I believe it’s something we should all be focused on changing. This is true even for doctors. If you want my two cents: patients deserve a better explanation of the services we (as doctors) are providing.
In my line of work, things can quickly become complex. I am an ophthalmologist specializing in vision correction and vision restoration, and I’d bet I need to explain a little bit more about what that means. I am a surgeon who works closely with two top-notch doctors of optometry in a busy surgical referral center, where, as a team, we evaluate and manage some of the most complex eye problems.
The most common surgery we do is cataract surgery, which is a removal and replacement of the eye’s cloudy natural lens, followed by laser vision correction. Both procedures are highly technical and data heavy in nature. For example, for every patient who comes in for a surgical evaluation, we obtain no fewer than 15 scans and tests before we even examine the eye.
I believe one of the most important and yet most challenging aspects of what we do is explaining our findings and recommendations to our patients. Something I learned in medical school is that the key to becoming a great doctor is being a great teacher, and this requires teaching to the level of each patient’s understanding. Not every patient comes in with the same baseline understanding of what a cataract is or how LASIK is performed, and my challenge to myself, my partner doctors, and my staff is simple: to afford every patient the opportunity to reach the level of understanding they need before proceeding with the plan. One size (or in this case, one explanation) does not fit all.
To be great in the world of healthcare today, there are a few basic necessities. You need to perform the most advanced services and perform them at the highest quality, not necessarily the lowest cost. You need to use the world’s most advanced technology and perform services that are backed by evidence-based medicine and seek answers to generate that evidence when it doesn’t exist. Finally, the services must be performed with a plan that is tailored to the patient and their goals. But my position is that it is simply not enough to perform the services and deliver good results. As doctors, we must be able to connect with our patients, understand their goals, and tap into our educator side to take patients by the hand, guiding them through the process instead of pushing them across the finish line.