Communication and the patient perspective in the eye examination (C-101626)

25 March 2022
Volume 23, Issue 1

In this article we draw on the results of our own research studies to identify some key communication issues in eye care consultations.

Domains covered

Professionalism Clinical practice

Our research demonstrates the importance of communication for professional and effective optometric consultations. When patients enter the consultation room optometrists should make them comfortable and establish rapport by asking clinically relevant questions about their life and health. The questions they ask progressively focus on changes that patients experience with their eyes and vision since they have last been to an optometrist. Thereby, it is important that optometrists avoid phrases that include technical language or make it difficult for patients to answer in simple terms.

It is also important to consider how changing modalities of practice may affect the communication process. For example, during the recent pandemic optometrists reported adjusting their face-to-face examination by positioning themselves further away than usual and limiting contact time (for example, performing case history over the phone or in a different room, conducting a symptom-based examination only). Changes such as these need to be incorporated into CPD and undergraduate teaching of interpersonal skills.

Throughout the examination optometrists can improve communication by assuming the perspective of their patient. For this, they can help their relationship with patients by using notes from the patient’s previous visit to inform their communication with them, and by asking themselves questions like ‘what does the patient know about their eyes and vision?’ and by attending to specific concerns patients raise when entering the examination room, during history taking and later in the examination.

Of course not all patients are the same and not all will display the kinds of communication behaviours we have discussed here. However, across all kinds of encounter, it is common in optometric examinations that problems arise in communication with patients and that these problems often stem from a failure to take the patient’s perspective into account when trying to elicit information. These challenges can be resolved or even avoided by communicative means, such as a rephrasing of questions, a use of language that is understandable for patients and a noticeable regard for patients’ concerns about their experience of their eyes and vision.

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Related further reading

The College has provided key information to help you identify cases and guidance on managing circumstances that are relevant to optometry practices.

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