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Enhancing patient services

Why is it you can often struggle to innovate when it comes to marketing or enhancing customer service?

Rod Solar

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2019

Innovation is the art of introducing something new, and cataract and refractive surgery have an impressive history of innovation. Think:

Phaco and small incisions
Foldable IOLs
Refractivisation of cataract surgery
Customised ablation
Femtosecond LASIK

As an ophthalmologist, your practice constantly challenges you to think divergently, come up with new solutions for patients and pivot when initial ideas fail in order to achieve the results you want. It’s in your nature. So why is it you can often struggle to innovate when it comes to marketing or enhancing customer service?

Perhaps you just need some inspiration. Here are some useful ways you can foster innovation within your practice:

Be a conscious consumer. Whenever you’re engaging with any business as a customer, ask yourself, what’s the story they’re selling? Who is the ideal customer they are trying to attract? How do I differ from that? How do I fit? What stage of the sales funnel am I in? What phase of the customer value journey am I at?

Hundreds if not thousands of messages impact you every day. Consume consciously and you’ll be on the way to picking up valuable ideas and lessons from your daily interactions with companies.

Maximise everything. When you see robust marketing communications or experience superior customer service, ask yourself – how could I apply this to my practice? How would I make this even better? How could I make this even more customer-oriented?

Copy existing ideas. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel or be the first person in the world to come up with an original plan. The most creative people also tend to be excellent copiers. The famous composer Igor Stravinsky supposedly said: “Immature artists copy, great artists steal.” That doesn’t mean to plagiarise. Instead, find inspiration in the work of others, then use it as a starting point for original creative output. What great ideas already exist that you could apply to your practice?

Generate lots of bad ideas. Self-censorship is the thief of creativity. Don’t reject your ideas too early. Just get them out (write them down, speak them out) and only evaluate them on their merits once you’ve spent all of your creative juices.

Embrace constraints. Some would argue that constraints are a necessary condition for innovation to occur. How can you make the boring, sexy? How can you get attention with no money? How can you stand out in a sea of established competitors? How can you make a commodity feel like an experience?

When faced with limited options, you’ve got to think your way out of a little box – and therein lies the breakthrough.

Remember, ideas are typically free and when executed with enough flair and passion can bring huge rewards even on a tight budget.

If you’re an ophthalmologist with an innovation that enhances patient services, you should enter the ESCRS Practice Management and Development Innovation Award 2019.

Shortlisted entrants will be invited to give a presentation on their projects at the 37th Congress of the ESCRS in Paris. The winning entrant will receive a €1,500 bursary to attend the 38th Congress of the ESCRS in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in October 2020.

Go here to enter.

Your Happiness Five a Day

Simple steps can help you on the pathway to happiness

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2019

There was a time when happiness was for children and newlyweds. Times change. Research confirms that happiness contributes to health and productivity. Consequently, being happy is recognised not as an optional extra but as a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle. Ophthalmologists are already in an advantageous position in the happiness stakes. When the happiness quota of a variety of medical specialties is surveyed, ophthalmology always figures highly; this year it was at number 8 of 29 specialties reporting.

As happiness contributes to creativity, productivity and longevity, why wouldn’t you check once in a while – ‘am I happy?’ You’re probably already pretty sure you know the answer, but should you be in any doubt here is an app to help. And if you discover you are not happy, there is plenty of advice on the web for turning the situation around.

I’ve had a look at 15 Habits of Incredibly Happy People, 10 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Incredibly Happy and the marginally less self-assured 25 Habits to Help You be Happy.

Aside from the impression that being able to count is the pathway to happiness, I’ve also garnered enough advice to formulate a plan. I’ll it call it the Happiness Five a Day.

Here it is:

1, 2, 3: Be kind; grateful; generous
We all know how to be do this – the warm smile, the sincere compliment, the understanding when things go wrong – consciously practising these virtues daily really does makes us happier.

4: Follow your dream
To give happiness a boost, find something to be excited about, a special interest that makes you glad to wake up in the morning. Need inspiration? Read this.

5: Nurture your relationships.
Maintain a healthy balance of life/work. If you aren’t sure you are in optimal balance, check it out here. If you discover you’re teetering, there are tips for improving your balance here and here.  And remember, ‘no one ever died wishing they’d spent more time at the office’. Regretting not getting the life/work balance right is as poignant for an ophthalmologist as for anyone else.

Happiness is not finding this out at the last minute.

Diversification: Your Key to Digital Success

Rod Solar, Practice Development Consulting Director of LiveseySolar Practice Builders, previews one of the programme highlights from this year’s ESCRS Practice Management and Development Programme

Rod Solar

Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2019

David Evans, speaking at the 36th Congress of the ESCRS in Vienna

Ten years ago, when a prospective eye surgery patient received a word-of-mouth referral, read a promotion or saw an article about a particular surgeon, they would simply pick up the phone and call the practice directly to discuss their options or book an appointment.

In today’s environment, however, the prospective patient’s first port of call is to scour the internet for options. In just 10 minutes when they have already conducted 10 online searches, not only would they have reviewed the recommended surgeon’s website and online presence, they would have visited five more practice websites, reviewed the social media platforms and perused each and every customer review out there.

You are what appears online
David Evans, CEO of Ceatus Media Group and ophthalmologist, explains that Google does not rank surgeons, it ranks websites and web presence. When people are making buying decisions, they look to the internet and make judgments on the quality of the patient experience and surgical outcomes based on what they see online. “It’s not entirely fair, but this is the reality,” he adds.

So how does an eye surgeon capture the attention of a prospective patient in a world saturated with so much accessible online information? Evans hopes to answer this question during his practical workshop on the Monday of the 37th Congress of the ESCRS in Paris, France.

Just like investing, Evans believes that you should never put all your eggs in one basket, and digital marketing is no different. You need to spread your digital assets to ensure touch points across the full internet spectrum, ie diversification.

Throughout the session, Evans will demonstrate the very best practices for website development, social media, reviews and other digital touch points, to increase a website’s online visibility and make it easier for prospective patients to access both surgeon and procedure information.

Attendees will also be informed of how the wrong strategy could actually have negative impact on the practice, and how a tailored diversified approach is the only way to be truly successful.

By the end of the workshop, attendees will have all of the necessary knowledge to fine-tune their digital strategy and excel in revenue growth. They will have acquired all of Evans’ useful tips and tricks on the implementation of external marketing to boost search engine rankings, apply an effective social media strategy, develop a positive reputation online with a reviews strategy and, most importantly, will know how to convert website visitors into consultations.

Evans will conclude his presentation with a section devoted to evaluating and improving Return on Investment.

To err is human – get used to it

All ophthalmologists will have bad days and failures, but that is part of the learning curve

Colin Kerr

Posted: Monday, April 1, 2019

We all have our bad days. Some days are worse than others.

I am not an ophthalmologist, but I can confidently say that my failures on a daily basis outweigh my successes.

Ophthalmologists pride themselves on their attention to detail and on their ability to deliver the best results to their patients.

Do they ever go home and say to their partners or friends: “Today, I failed.”

I don’t think they do, as failure is usually not an option for high-achieving, highly motivated medical professionals.

That brings me to a recent article by the musician and writer Tracey Thorne who wrote on failure in the New Statesman magazine.

“…….failed job interviews, infertility, divorce, illness. Human frailty, vulnerability, and, ultimately, that one great failure none of us can avoid, mortality – they glue us together, or should do,” said Thorne.

I immediately recalled Thorne’s article when I listened to a EuroTimes Eye Contact interview with Dr Sorcha Ní Dhubhghaill, who discussed what trainees should look for in a mentor and what mentors can offer in that role.

Dr Ní Dhubhghaill is ideally placed to discuss this role having made the transition from trainee to her current position as Corneal Surgeon at Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery (NIIOS) and Antwerp University Hospital.

“There is a saying ‘The master has failed more than the trainee has tried’,” said Dr Ní Dhubhghaill. “When you see this amazing surgeon doing amazing surgery, so quickly and so elegeantly, you may wonder ‘how will I ever get there’.

“You have to remember that the surgeon you are observing did not come out of medical school doing that. They have had bad days, they’ve had failures.”

Dr Ní Dhubhghaill said that part of her job as a mentor is to try and convince young surgeons not to quit out of the surgical programme.

“Every young surgeon, when they have their first complication, sits at home, loses sleep and wonders ‘should I have let somebody else do this procedure?’ You need, as a mentor, to help them over these roadblocks because you have to remember that someone helped you over your roadblocks,” she said.

Dr Ní Dhubhghaill says she was very lucky to have great mentors including Peter Barry and Marie-José Tassignon. “They both helped me over these hurdles when I didn’t want to continue, and now I love it.”

In one of his last works, Worstward Ho (1983), the great Irish writer and Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett wrote:

“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Beckett’s work is often misinterpreted, but it is possible to argue that what he is suggesting here is that there is no such thing as absolute success or failure.

And that is why ophthalmologists should always remember that to err is human.

Notes from an American in Paris

Maryalicia Post shares some hard-earned tips for visitors to the 37th Congress of the ESCRS

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2019

Photo by John TownerWhat do Gene Kelly and I have in common? Singing? Dancing? No, and not a cheeky grin either. He and I were each An American in Paris. In his case it was for two hours in the famous film; in mine it was for six years in real life. In that time I made a few observations that might be helpful to anyone planning a visit. I realise they are only my conclusions seen through the lens of my personal experience, but if they’re of any use to you – you’re welcome.

1) The French are ‘serious’… by which I don’t mean they are reluctant to laugh. I mean shop attendants, waiters, bus conductors et al seem to have a more professional approach to their job than you might find elsewhere and expect to be treated with due courtesy. On going into any shop greet the staff with ‘bonjour’. (If there are other customers include them with a smile). In a bakery, for example, do not rush in and snap ‘one croissant’. Start with Bonjour and end with Merci.

2) You can’t go wrong if you wait to be shown where to sit, even in an informal cafe. If in any doubt, just stand and look bewildered; someone will point you to a seat, and you’re off to a good start.

3) Don’t feel rebuffed if sales attendants ignore you. In most cases the custom is for them to be available when/if you want help and to stay away until addressed. And, nothing personal, but a French waiter is not automatically your new friend. A smile may not be on the menu.

4) Expect your appearance to be checked out by both men and women in public places like the Metro. Parisians go to some trouble to look their best and assume you do too; being invisible is not the goal.

5) In general, don’t go looking for examples of ‘how rude the French are’. Don’t construe a runny omelette, bloody lamb or smelly cheese as indifference. Au contraire. It’s the way ‘they’ like it and they assume any reasonable person would as well. Make a polite request for a change if necessary.

6) Use whatever French you have. I got used to asking a question in French which would be answered patiently in English, leading to my next question in French, also answered in English… a kind of bilingual duet. When the answer comes in French, buy yourself a drink.

7) If you can’t walk to your destination even in your most comfortable shoes (which you should bring for this very purpose), take the Metro. The best reason for taking the Metro is to avoid taking a taxi. Here’s a useful Metro guide.

8) Are there really rude people in Paris? Oh yes, and they all drive. If you take a taxi you may well find yourself up close and personal with a very rude person indeed. He or she may pretend not to know where you want to go – I always write out the destination and show it in advance – or will bury you under an avalanche of explanations in French as to why he or she is approaching the city via Versailles. Meanwhile, the meter runs on. I pre-book a car to meet me at the airport as this scam seems endemic at CDG. However, if you must, well, c’est la vie. Here’s a good guide to taking a taxi in Paris.

Bon voyage and merci.

I knew that!

Enhance your trip to Athens with some timely background reading

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2019

The past is present in Athens. Perhaps it’s because the Parthenon looks down like a benevolent schoolmaster, prompting questions – who, where, when?? If your Greek history is now only a faint memory, why not brush up before you get there for the 23rd Winter Meeting of the ESCRS? A good place to start is with Edith Hall’s book Introducing the Ancient Greeks.

It’s Professor Hall’s theory that the Greeks exhibited 10 specific character traits that supported the miracle that was Greece. The character traits were: an appreciation of the sea, being wary of authority, highly individualistic, of an inquiring mind, receptive to new ideas, witty, competitive, prepared to pursue excellence, elaborately articulate and addicted to pleasure of all kinds. The book is organised into 10 chapters, each pairing one of these traits with the country’s unfolding history from 1600 BC to 400 AD. Interesting and informative, the paperback earns its place in your carry-on luggage or can be downloaded to your Kindle app.

If a visit to Asklepios is on your Greek agenda, or even if it’s not, consider Asklepios, Medicine, and the Politics of Healing in Fifth-Century Greece: Between Craft and Cult. It’s a hardback, so both weighty and expensive, but it’s an engrossing examination and comparison of the practices at Asklepios and those of Hippocratic medicine of the same period. The author, Professor Bronwen Wickkiser, is a specialist in ancient Greek history and culture, especially the intersection between religion and medicine. In a subsequent book, The Thymele at Epidaurosshe looks at performance, architecture and acoustics in a Greek healing sanctuary as they relate to music therapy .

If you’re a bit shaky on Greek mythology, now’s the time to remind yourself who was Pandora’s brother-in-law and how long Odysseus was away travelling. There’s a bit of a vogue for retelling the stories in breezy modern dialogue; one example of this approach is Stephen Fry’s book Mythosanother is Robin Waterford’s The Greek Myths: Stories of the Greek Gods and Heroes Vividly Retold. Traditionalists might prefer the classic version by Robert Graves: The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition (Penguin, 2017). Available both in paperback and on Kindle.

And if you’d rather catch up ‘on screen’, try The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization.

Narrated by Liam Neeson and with beautiful photography of ancient sites, the 180-minute long documentary was produced by PBS.

The 23rd Winter Meeting of the ESCRS will take place in Athens on February 15-17.

Driving and the elderly

What is the ophthalmologist's role in certifying older patients for driving?

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Friday, January 25, 2019

The full details are unclear, but on January 17, 2019, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road traffic accident near Queen Elizabeth II’s private home, the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England.

According to a report from the BBC, the 97-year-old lost control of the Land Rover Range Rover he was driving and made contact with another car carrying two women and a baby. The driver of the other car was unscathed, as was the child, but the adult passenger broke her wrist in the accident. A bystander reported hearing that the Duke told police he had been dazzled by the sun.

While most of the headlines focused on the fact of Prince Philip’s position and the well-being of the injured woman, the incident also opened up a conversation about driving and the elderly.

What is the protocol for older drivers? While specifics vary in different jurisdictions, roughly similar rules abound. In both the United Kingdom and Ireland, drivers older than 70 are required to renew their licence every one-to-three years. In the UK, drivers must meet minimum eyesight requirements, which are as follows:

You must be able to read (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) a car number plate made after 1 September 2001 from 20 metres.

You must also meet the minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 (6/12) measured on the Snellen scale (with glasses or contact lenses, if necessary) using both eyes together or, if you have sight in one eye only, in that eye.

In Ireland, however, drivers older than 70 require a certification of fitness to drive by their doctor.

“This includes a cardiac and neurological and cognitive assessment as well as vision and hearing,” says Dr Tony Cox, Medical Director of the Irish College of General Practitioners. “Assessment of their mobility and independence is also undertaken. It’s a thorough enough assessment.”

A doctor can certify for one or three years, and can add restrictions to person’s range and time of driving.

Arthur Cummings MD describes this assessment: “It needs to be mentioned whether you first of all pass the required 6/12 with spectacles and if you don’t wear spectacles, whether you pass the 6/12 without spectacles. The license then states whether you need to wear spectacles or not.”

Mr Cummings, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon and Medical Director of the Wellington Eye Clinic and Head of the Department of Ophthalmology Beacon Hospital, Dublin, continues: “The second requirement is doing a binocular visual field test to ensure that the visual field is wide enough and the current requirement is 150°.”

Speaking to EuroTimes in 2014, Louis Kartsonis MD, a general ophthalmologist in San Diego, California, US, described a scenario where a patient presented with high visual acuity but her family informed him that she was displaying early signs of Alzheimer’s.

“You have two ways to go with a case like this,” said Dr Kartsonis. “One, you could say my job as an ophthalmologist is vision care, and my responsibility stops with evaluating the status of vision. But we have to recognise a larger picture, particularly in a case where driving accidents have already occurred.”

In California, a doctor can file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles questioning the patient’s fitness to drive. The patient then receives a letter informing them that their licence has been suspended and requesting they perform a hearing, vision, written and driving tests.

Concerned doctors – GPs or ophthalmologists – can take simple steps to test patients’ cognitive functions. These include trail making, where the patient is asked to draw lines connecting circled letters and numbers in different sequences, and the clock drawing test.

In this test the patient is asked to draw a clock face, drawing in the 12 hours and then drawing in the hands to a specific time. If the patient is unable to complete the task it is a clear sign of cognitive impairment.

While these are rudimentary tests and should not be used in isolation, they may help to point in the direction of a diagnosis.

Ultimately, the directions are clear. However, the remaining unknown is the quality of the relationship between the patient and GP, which can be built up over many years and can be shattered in moments.

With patients referred to him by GPs, the issue can go one of two ways, says Mr Cummings: “Many times the issue is due to a cataract and we can resolve it with surgery and sometimes unfortunately it is due to something like advanced glaucoma, or age-related macular degeneration and then the news is less good.”

It may also fall to the patient’s family to step in. The ability to drive can be someone’s lifeline, a symbol and manifestation of their independence. This will not be given up lightly. Patient safety, however, and that of other road users, is paramount.

Old meets new at 23rd ESCRS Winter Meeting

We take a look back at medical approaches to cataract in Ancient Greece

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2018

The 23rd ESCRS Winter Meeting will take place in Athens in February, 2019. This will be the fourth Winter Meeting in the city, once the centre of the ancient western world. There will be many topics up for discussion including ocular surface disease, complications in corneal graft surgery, advances in glaucoma as well as didactic courses and practical workshops.

The Hellenic Society of Intraocular Implant and Refractive Surgery will also host a symposium entitled “Advanced technology – better results?” This is an interesting question, especially in the context of the history of medicine in Greece.

The term “glaukos” was a non-specific descriptor meaning blue, green or light grey, and its use in medical terms came from the colour produced in angle-closure glaucoma. The goddess Athena was referred to throughout Homer’s Iliad as “Glaukopis Athena” for her bright or “flashing” eyes. Speaking more generally, the word “ophthalmos” was the Greek for eye, and combined with “logos” meaning word or study, it forms ophthalmology.

Writing about “The Cataract Operation In Ancient Greece” in Histoire des sciences médicales in 1982, Jean Lascaratos and Spyros Marketos describe the understanding of and methods to treat cataract in Ancient Greece.

Hippocrates, known as the father of western medicine, mentions the term “glaucosis”, they write, but it is believed that he was in fact referring to what we now call cataract. Galen, who came several hundred years later in the 2nd Century AD, believed that hypochyma (as cataract was then called) was a coagulation of the aqueous humour, while glaucoma was the transformation of humours existing in the eye to a sea-green colour.

Galen wrote that a treatment for cataract was discovered by accident: “That is, a goat suffering from hypochyma saw again when it fell upon a thorn that pierced its eye.”

His standard was as follows: “We pierce the cornea with a needle on the periphery until it has entered the anterior chamber. Then we pierce the hypochyma, which we push aside.” Another method described by Galen was called depression, which consisted of moving the cataract away from its original position. He also writes that some doctors tried to remove the cataract by opening the cornea, yet this was a rare, risky approach.

To think it would be some 1,600 years before Jacques Daviel successfully extracted cataracts, and another 100 after that before the advent of phacoemulsification, the Ancient Greeks deserve a lot of credit for their efforts. What they might make of the advances made today, and on show at the 23rd ESCRS Winter Meeting, we will never know.

I didn’t sign up for this!

When it comes to your own practice, ‘leadership’ comes with the job

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2018

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

There are many reasons for choosing a career in ophthalmology; for most it’s probably the blend of medicine and surgery, the appeal of the technical environment and the satisfaction of healing and helping. An interest in leading a business practice isn’t normally high on the list. Yet in real life it turns out that ‘leadership’ comes with the job. And the first task is knowing where you’re going.

Here’s how one business guru puts it: “All successful physician practices have a clear vision of their reason for existence… This can be referred to as the corporate culture or the core values of the company that clearly defines the values and preferred expectations of behaviour.”

LinkedIn recently sent out an article on ‘building a great company culture’. The piece is written by Claude S Silver, Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia. A ‘heart officer’ is not someone who deals with cardiac arrest in the office setting – In this case it turns out to be someone heading up what used to be called ‘Human Resources’. It’s Claude’s job to show love and empathy to the employees while monitoring their performance, thus motivating them to do their best for the team of which they are a part.

Without going so far as to employ a Heart Officer, if you’re ready to consider sharpening up your office practice, an internet search turns up an article that outlines the ‘10 hallmarks of leadership in an ophthalmologists practice’. Realistically enough, it begins by flagging up the need to find the time: “At least eight additional hours per week on top of your core job as an ophthalmologist.” And just as realistically the author points out that: “ophthalmic microsurgery is the domain of slow, cautious, 100% perfection. Ophthalmic leadership is the domain of well-intended, timely approximations of 80% perfection. Or less. … get on with it.”

The article ends with this cautionary note: “Most patients can choose from whom they receive care. Even if they love the ophthalmologist, they might go elsewhere if the office is poorly run. As a physician, you’re more than just the doctor. You must also be an effective organiser and facilitator of a large group of staff.”

Whether you have a “large group of staff” or simply one or two overworked employees, a checklist of who does what in an ideal world – an outline of the ‘five key roles in the ophthalmic practice‘ – is a useful checklist.

Hello Dolly

Initiatives that help doctors speak to patients on a human level can only help both sides of the interaction

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I read not long ago of an initiative that introduces doctors to ‘normal’ older people. One of these older people, a retired family therapist, mentioned a gastroenterologist who dismissed her complaints of fatigue by saying: “At your age, you can’t expect to have much energy.” Then, in her 70s, she switched doctors and learned she had a low-grade infection.

It happens.  Not long after my husband died, I’d called in to an ophthalmologist’s clinic.  For some months I’d been aware my eyes were red and didn’t feel ‘right’. Now I had time to investigate. The consultant performed his exam. “Tell your boyfriend it’s just age,” he said. That, and the bill, was the extent of the consultation.

Heavy-handed humour? Joke gone wrong? I felt affronted, an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned reaction.  When I ran out of moisturiser, my eyes cleared up. I’d been allergic to it as I discovered, no thanks to that ophthalmologist.  I never did forget the insensitivity of his remark – or return to that clinic.

I was reminded of that when I read about mannequins being used in medical training.

These dolls bleed, twitch and have seizures just like real people. As no one wants to be the first patient a trainee doctor intubates, for example, it’s wonderful these dolls exist.  But on the other hand, it’s already all too easy for today’s harassed doctors to regard their patients as mannequins, or at least to forget they have feelings.

Happily, empathy skills are increasingly part of medical training, both for the patient’s benefit and the doctor’s. At the University of Houston, Texas, end-of-life conversations are already being practised on mannequins.

But what about the more common situations, like routine operations? One of the most empathetic things a doctor can do is find time to stop by the bedside to ask how the patient is feeling, answer questions, assure him or her that all went well.  So far, that can’t be practised on a mannequin, but if it were I’ll bet even a stand-in human would respond with lower blood pressure and a thumbs up.

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