Interdisciplinary Eye Care: Increase Patient Satisfaction and Boost Revenue

By Keli O'Connor, COMT, ABOC November 17, 2020

Eyes are unimaginably complex. Within one small organ, numerous fine layers are performing various functions in harmony with one another to form the images that are sent to our brains for us to see. Optometrists and general ophthalmologists see the bulk of eye care patients but when someone with a specialized disease or injury comes into the office, they are often referred out to a subspecialist. Although it would be a substantial change, partnering up with other physicians to enhance the care of your patients is one with indisputable benefits. 

Corneal specialists, vitreoretinal surgeons, oculoplastics physicians, neuro-ophthalmologists, glaucoma specialists, and low vision physicians all work independently in their respective fields, but there are times when these specialties cross. In addition to working beside fellow subspecialists, there are times when ophthalmologists work closely with general health practitioners, nutritionists, endocrinologists, and oncologists for the best outcomes for their patients.

The old saying "the eyes are the window to the soul" is not too far off from the truth. Often, a routine eye exam is the first place where a patient will get a diagnosis for their hypertension or, more commonly, diabetes. Eye care physicians are historically known for diagnosing patients with various systemic diseases based on findings in routine eye exams. A more holistic approach to caring for patients like these is highly beneficial for the patient, of course, but also for the practitioner, as increased communication paints a better picture for the documented history of the present illness (HPI). Within eye care alone, specific subspecialties work very closely beside each other.

Oculoplastics surgeons and neuro-ophthalmologists work together at times to tackle the many issues presented with thyroid eye disease. Retinologists occasionally team up with cornea surgeons for complex cataract surgeries, and ophthalmologists who specialize in cataract surgery often work closely with optometrists for refractive and post-operative care. Sports medicine, endocrinology, and general health practitioners all need assistance from ophthalmology regularly.

Coming together with fellow eye care professionals saves patients time and deepens their level of care, but is also beneficial for the medical team. Working with other specialties, practices, and hospital systems deepens our understanding of our patients' pathology while potentially improving the future of their specific disease treatment.

Joining forces with physicians and subspecialists outside of your current field does not come without its challenges. However, with patience and time, it will come together. Offices that lack the space or financial resources to bring on another full or part-time physician can network with nearby specialists and form a similar professional relationship.

Whenever making a move to join other physicians and practices, it is crucial to be mindful of staffing learning curves. Listening and accurate record-keeping is a significant facet to interdisciplinary work, and assistants and scribes alike may need additional training to combat this. When a patient presents with multiple ailments, documenting the pertinent information, and using critical thinking skills to determine which test or physician they should encounter first helps tremendously with workflow. Lastly, working as a team is the most significant part of any collaboration; making sure that everyone involved is on the same page will help prevent significant hiccups in the care of patients with multiple care teams.

Deciding to join another physician's practice or hire a subspecialist into your own can be a difficult one. There are numerous considerations and risks involved, but there are also clear benefits in both patient care and practice revenue. If the idea seems promising, but the business is not yet in a position to merge with another, networking with other physicians and offices can help form similar relationships until becoming an interdisciplinary practice is feasible.

The move to increase your office's bottom line while improving the quality of care for your patients is something to think about if you want to give your practice an edge above others. It is best to research and network early when making major operational shifts. The choice to make this large move is not one you have to make alone; plenty of consultants and resources are available once you've chosen to grow your practice.

Keli O'Connor, COMT, ABOC

Keli is a writer, optician, and ophthalmic technician who has worked in eyecare since 2008. She has managed and trained teams in both optometry and ophthalmology. Keli is the author of The Optimal Tech, a guidebook for eyecare personnel, and currently works as a clinical coordinator for a retinal degeneration center in Philadelphia, PA. Her work has been published in Translational Vision Science & Technology. When not writing, she enjoys reading and outdoor exploration. Follow her on Twitter at @KeliBOConnor.

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