“Worn out phrases and longing gazes won’t get you where you want to go. No!” The Mammas and the Pappas.

Let’s give this lyric a “maybe, maybe not.”

Do you have phrases and expressions that you use every day, without thought, as if by reflex? We all do. It would be really difficult to reinvent our language use for every patient.

One or two, please uncross your legs, put your chin right here. We all know the drill.

On the other side of the coin, it IS important is to develop phrases and expressions to use when things aren’t routinely procedural, and the going gets tough. It’s really helpful to have go-to phrases that you can deliver with (seeming) uniqueness and sincerity. THEN you can concentrate on the issue and hopefully solve it.

A sincere and uncluttered approach is the key.

I’ve learned this acutely from working with the MDs, as their background training in grave situations tends to give them an edge, at least initially. I’m reminded of an 80-year-old lady who I had seen, along with her husband, for five consecutive years. This year, I entered the exam room and knew that something was wrong, really wrong. Yes, The Mr. had passed away a month earlier, and this was her first time out of the house since then.

So the question is, what do YOU say in that circumstance?

Fumble on this one and everyone understands, albeit uncomfortably so. Give a concise and compassionate answer, and you will come out ahead personally and professionally. My response was, “Oh, my! I am so sorry. I enjoyed taking care of him. How are you doing?” You could tell that she was at ease, and she felt better after giving a brief description of his medical issues at the end. Fast-forward a bit and The Mrs. eye exam showed two surgical problems, which were much better reviewed since the air had been cleared.

How about in a dispute or financial issue?

The last place you want to fumble is when a patient has a payment complaint. I’ve found that body language and tone of voice are keys. Face the patient directly, take a deep breath, and relax. A little pause never hurt. “I’m sorry that happened. We have a staffer who has all the data at hand and is trained to take care of this. If you aren’t satisfied, please contact me directly.” Boom.

Glass checks?

If it’s a bitter complaint, I’ll listen patiently, draw a deep breath, and sincerely recite, “You know, it takes two of us together to make this prescription.” And, reassuringly, “It happens about one time in 25, on prescriptions that I write. No worries, we’ll fix it for you.” Or, “I’d be happy to speak to the optician who made them if needed.”

Refractive issues?

Our refractive skill is supposed to be our strong suit, right? One of our ophthalmologists would record on the chart, “This patient cannot be refracted.” Inappropriate and risky, yes, but does it make a point? Oh, yeah. We all have these. What remarks do you make to a patient who is torturing you during the subjective refraction? Have them at hand, and go to them QUICKLY. For me, it’s gentle at first, as “You’re trying too hard. Relax and simply tell me which lens makes the chart easier to read.” Onward and upward, “No, no, please ignore what the lens does to size and shape of the letters.” Finally, “Oh, you don’t need to describe the chart each time. I can show you more choices if I can move from one to the next.”

Dilation refusers?

“We’ll respect your wishes and not dilate THIS TIME. Just know that we don’t have any long-term patients who won’t dilate, as we need this test to do the best job of examining you. Plus, the courts consider it to be the ‘standard of care.’ Please plan on it next time, or we cannot do the exam. Bring a driver, or use the sunglasses that we provide.”

I had one last month that had refused dilation twice before, with our other docs. She went BALLISTIC and ran up to our administrator to complain when I said that we could no longer care for her without dilation. I was gentle and professional. She went out of her gourd when I said we would not see her next year. “It’s my body………..” was HER phrase! Yes, you are going to lose a few.

The challenge is to be able to deliver a phrase that you’ve mastered, and not have it sound cookie-cutter. The planned phrase can be a backbone for professional communication. It takes some practice, but your professionalism will make it all seem fluid.