Technicians as Patient Educators

In ophthalmology, technicians wear many hats and one of the most enriching is that of the patient educator. This is an important task in the field, but there are many challenges that we may meet when teaching patients about artificial tears or the importance of taking their prescribed eye drops. There may even be times when we have to talk to our patients about smoking cessation or managing their blood sugars more efficiently and we have to do our best to educate while facing patient care obstacles.

Patients respect doctors; assistants, not as much. We may realize that the physicians we work for are just regular people like you or me, but patients feel as if they are superhuman at times. Ophthalmic technicians are on the front line in the eye exam and have to do the dirty work of asking the questions that patients do not want to answer or instilling the burning eye drops so we tens to get a bum rap. As such, patients are less likely to listen to any information that we give them, dismissing what we say unless the doctor later reinforces it.

Part of this, of course, is caused by the fact that ophthalmic assistants are not legally allowed to give medical advice. As these conversations are reserved for physicians, patients may feel that what we have to say means little or nothing—if it is important, the doctor will say it. While the ophthalmologist typically reinforces what we say, there are occasionally times where they may change their minds, further causing a sense of distrust by some patients.

In the cases where both technician and physician reiterate the same medical directions, as in the importance of taking all of one’s glaucoma drops, patients often still fail to recognize the importance of adhering to it. Whether it be issues with copays, trouble getting the drops into the eye or just absentmindedness, there will always be people who are non-compliant with their drop regimen. This is a quick way to upset the doctor, but, as a tech, we can find this troublesome, first because we were not listened to but second because we need to now deal with the repercussions of the non-compliance, like organizing a series of more testing or potentially readying the patient for an emergent laser.

It can be frustrating to have a person not listen to or even combat you when you are just trying to help them, but we need to remember that patients are just looking out for themselves and we are doing our jobs in teaching them. We have to make sure that the instructions we provide are within the legal scope of our roles and we have to do so in a way that will compel our patients to listen to us and follow our directions. It may not always be easy, but it is part of our job in healthcare and our patients are counting on us to do our best for them.

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