Dustin Krassin, OD, FAAO of Wicker Park Eye Center in Chicago, Illinois, and an HEA National Advisory Board member, works in an ophthalmology private practice where only about five percent of the patients are there for primary eye care visits. He engages with patients — and their families — in a different way than a primary care practitioner might because so many patients need to come in multiple times throughout the year.

He can show patients the results of the day’s exam and also compare results over time, pointing out whether the disease is progressing, slowing or stable. For example, age-related macular degeneration patients can see their ocular coherence tomography images, if they’re interested, so that they can understand what he’s looking for. “I often start by saying how I think things look, ‘but here is what I’m looking at.’ A vast majority of the time, patients want to know and appreciate me showing them.” The practice also uses a LipiView® Ocular Surface Interferometer and the TearLab™ Osmolarity System for the treatment and monitoring of dry eye.

His mission, therefore, is to make sure that his patients — and in the case of elderly patients, their family members — understand why these regular visits are so important. Technology plays a role, he says, noting the practice has a large touchscreen display in each lane where he can show videos or animations that help explain the condition he’s monitoring. “It almost gives us a third person in the room, a visual that patients can connect to my words; I can interact with the tool and be sure that the patient and/or family understands what I’m explaining,” he says.

In a medical practice, the first visit is a critical one. “We are developing a relationship, and that first engagement is paramount because I have to make things clear and establish trust. I have to explain why I’m ordering tests and that the work we’re going to do together will save patients stress and time and, most importantly, can help protect their sight.”

Dr. Krassin came to this practice after six years in a refractive surgery environment. There, much of the engagement with patients was focused on preoperative education and making sure that the patient was happy postoperatively but typically without long-term engagement following the surgery. In his current practice, he’s developing relationships that might last for the remainder of a patient’s life. “Another change with our elderly demographic is that we’re much more connected to our patients’ families. I’ve had patients in the chair call a family member and hand me the phone, saying, ‘Can you explain this to my daughter?’ When we take the time to do that, there’s a palpable change in the relationship,” he says.

Educating these family members, not only on their relative’s ocular condition but on general ocular health strategies, creates an even tighter bond. Relatives of a patient with age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or cataracts are often keenly interested in hearing what steps and interventions they should be taking. “Much of our digital education can be sent to the patient and family members from our interactive touchscreens and through our electronic medical records during or after the exam, which we also find very helpful.”

In addition, the practice uses Facebook to share research and information on ocular conditions and diseases as well as public health messages on eye health and protection. It also uses Solutionreach to stay connected and remind patients of their upcoming appointments.

All of these interactions emphasize that eye care does not have to be a once-a-year thought. The challenge for practitioners today is to reach out to patients in ways that they want to be contacted, providing them with current, easy-to-understand and relevant information that they can use to improve their health, their vision and visual comfort all while taking into account their sense of style. Dr. Krassin notes that Benjamin Franklin once said, “’Tell me and I forget; teach me and I will remember; involve me and I will understand.’ Our practice is a firm believer in the latter,” says Dr. Krassin. “We want to connect with patients and involve them in this journey, this relationship. We all win when we do, and technology helps us do that.”

To read other articles in the ‘Engage, Re-engage, Repeat’ series, click here.