Exceptional glaucoma care

Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona adds a personal touch to deliver top-notch patient care.

When glaucoma patients come to Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona, they’re typically anxious — maybe even petrified — and often unsure of what to expect next.

“We rarely meet our patients under entirely pleasant circumstances,” says Pat Dawson, COA, CCRC, a technician and study coordinator. “Our patients most often come to us after they have received news that their glaucoma has worsened after a long struggle to control their eye pressure, and they now require surgery. We understand that at the very least, they are apprehensive. At the worst, they are scared half to death.”

The staff and doctors keep these concerns in mind as they work with each of their patients. They know that frightened patients benefit from a gentle, caring approach — and they believe in delivering exceptional patient care during each and every visit.

Ms. Dawson, who works in the research department and spends much of her time implementing and coordinating glaucoma studies, says that making a point to develop trusting relationships with patients helps put them at ease. “We let them know that we are going to take care of them as if they were our own loved one facing the decision of surgery or enrolling in a clinical trial.”

The staff at Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona produce top-notch care while adding a personal touch as patients transition from one area of the practice to the next. They also provide proper assistance to the practice’s glaucoma surgeons and optometrists: George Reiss, MD; Vinay Dewan, MD; Shamil Patel, MD; Sara Ghobraiel, MD; Chris Sorenson, OD; and Shenita Freeney, OD.

Here, staff and doctors at Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona explain how they provide a positive experience for their glaucoma patients.

From start to finish

The exceptional patient experience doesn’t begin in the doctor’s chair — it begins much sooner, before patients even come into the office. The friendly appointment reminders and communication patients receive before ever setting foot in the practice sets a positive tone from the start. And once patients come to the practice, that exceptional experience continues.

Lorena Salgado, technician, says that Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona is different from other practices where she has worked because the techs are encouraged to get to know patients as opposed to just moving things along as quickly as possible. That’s not to say they don’t value efficiency, but Ms. Salgado says they are supported in being “friendly,” which has gone such a long way in helping her build relationships with patients.

Sara Ghobraiel, MD (center), reviews fundus images with Tiffany Price, COA (left), and a patient.

Tiffany Price, COA, prepares to capture OCT images.

Liz Williams, BA (right), performs a visual field test.

“Remembering details about a patient’s life is important to them,” Ms. Salgado says. “It helps make them comfortable. Those details don’t always come back to me immediately but as soon as we start making small talk I usually remember something about the patient and make a point to ask about it.”

In the surgery department, Marcia Nussbaum, COMT, OSA, says that the goal is always ensuring the patient feels like an “individual and not a number.” That can be a challenge in a practice that sees so many patients, so Ms. Nussbaum says that she tries to approach patient treatment as though she were in their position. She reiterates that it’s always helpful to realize how fearful patients may be and to use a gentle approach.

That personal touch even carries over to billing — an area that one might think can’t possibly be made “patient-friendly.” But, Tiffani Hunter, CPC, front office and billing supervisor, says that it absolutely can. “Nobody likes to receive a bill, but we find that when we take the time to explain the bill to the patient in a kind and caring manner, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes they just need an explanation about the charges. It’s all in the way that you speak and explain things.”

In addition, Ms. Dawson says that many of their older glaucoma patients are facing other hardships in life, such as caring for an ill spouse. For these patients, even a few gentle words of encouragement about the importance of taking care of their health are appreciated. Getting to know patients on a more personal level makes a world of difference, says Ms. Dawson, who adds that the staff often go “above and beyond” for patients in many ways, including coordinating transportation when needed.

Ms. Dawson says one of her colleagues in the research department even prepared a package for a patient whose beloved German Shepard passed away recently. The package included a picture frame, a plush German Shepard, and a thoughtful handwritten card.

A commitment to communication

That friendly, patient-centered attitude is of course carried over in the doctor’s chair. Dr. Ghobraiel says that she believes communication is of the utmost importance when she meets with a patient. “In today’s busy world, health-care professionals often appear rushed and do not take the time to fully connect and help a patient understand the nuances of their particular disease,” Dr. Ghobraiel says. “In our practice, we focus on taking the extra time needed to make sure that every patient’s questions are answered and concerns are addressed.”

This level of communication is valued throughout the practice. If things take a bit longer than expected in the doctor’s chair, that information is relayed up front so that patients in the waiting room can be kept informed. “Every 20 minutes, we update our front office staff on how the clinic is running,” says technician Tiffany Price, COA. “This way, they can alert the patients as they check in if there is a wait time to see the doctor they are scheduled with. This process limits patient frustration because they are always kept informed of what is taking place during their visit.” And, if patients have to wait, staff offer them refreshments and coffee to make their experience in the reception area even better, she says.

Christina Sorenson, OD (left), discusses patient participation in clinical trials.

The role of training

Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona staff across all departments receive training on how to consistently provide an exceptional patient experience. For example, in addition to regular meetings to discuss successes, goals, and concerns, technicians also participate in outside classes and seminars, including continuing education classes through JCAHPO, AAO, ASOA, and Corcoran Consulting Group.

At the front desk, Ms. Hunter says she always observes a high-level of customer service toward patients. As a supervisor, she aims to review how staff interacts with patients daily. Also, staff receive tools that can enhance those interactions on their own, such as certified patient service specialist (CPSS) certifications through BSM Consulting.

“Our goal is to get patients information quickly and without having to put them on hold, so the staff has access to answers to frequently asked questions on-hand,” Ms. Hunter says. “Our training booklet also has scripts on ‘what to say’ if the front office person is unsure. Providing these tools ultimately makes the front office staff more self-sufficient, which in turn, allows them to do a better job. That accountability factor is important.”

A consistent experience

At the end of the day, it’s important that everyone at the practice is “on the same page,” says Ms. Price. That consistency factor is vital in ensuring that patients receive the same level of glaucoma care, whether it is their first visit or one of several subsequent visits (see “Patient compliance and follow-ups,” right). No matter where the patient is within the practice, staff are confident that they are receiving great care.

“Communication is key among each staff member,” Ms. Price says. “We must be on the same page for the success of our practice. This helps us to provide exceptional patient care.” OP

Patient compliance and follow-ups

Glaucoma patients often require multiple visits. Like any other practice, Eye Physicians & Surgeons of Arizona is always looking at ways to improve their patients’ compliance with these follow-ups, and it’s important that they follow through with them.

Tiffani Hunter, front office and billing supervisor for the practice, offers a few tips that have helped to ensure that patients follow through with these visits.

  • Multi-pronged communication. “Our phone system emails, texts, and calls patients to remind them of appointments,” Ms. Hunter says.
  • Text messages. “Even with the older population, texting is popular,” Ms. Hunter says. “Our older patients are very adept with their smartphones and like the texting feature. But, some just opt for the phone call. We have the option to turn texting on or off based on patient preference.”
  • Ongoing communication for no-shows. “If patients do miss an appointment, a staff member will personally call them within one hour of their missed appointment time,” Ms. Hunter says. “If they are not reachable, then a voicemail is left, and we mark it for automated calls to go out. They will continue to get calls until they contact the office.”
  • Reminders in the chair. “The importance of follow-ups is always brought up in the doctor’s chair, as well,” Ms. Hunter says. “It’s imperative that patients recognize that follow-ups matter when it comes to their eye health.”