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Achieving better patient outcomes

Better patient outcomes usually come down to great communication. Not assuming anything, being clear, empathetic, and speaking in layman's terms. But, the challenge increases for eye health practitioners.

With 55 per cent of meaning communicated through body language, and only seven per cent through spoken word, it is imperative health professionals maximise their communication skills for blind and low vision patients.

Psychologist Courtney McKee, who herself has low vision, regularly sees clients who have had bad experiences in consulting rooms.

Psychologist and Vision Australia staff member, Courtney McKee

"Health professionals know their speciality so well, they can tell you the ins and outs of a condition, but sometimes forget how important good communication can be.”

— Courtney McKee, Psychologist

“Give the patient the control in a situation; address them, not their carer or family member; explain the examination process before you touch them, and provide good verbal instructions that they can understand.”

8 communication tips

Here are simple tips to communicate better with blind and low-vision patients:

Don't assume the person will recognise you by your voice. Eg. “Hi Donna, it’s Dr Smith. How’re you?”.

Similarly, say goodbye when you finish a conversation and indicate when you are leaving the room. Eg. “Hi Donna, I’m heading off now. See you soon.”

Remember, they’re not deaf. Address the patient, and if they’re over 18, they should be the one making the decisions on their healthcare.

This will affect the tone of your voice and give a lot of extra information to the person who is vision impaired.

Don't avoid words like "see" or "look" or talking about everyday activities such as watching TV or videos. Also use accurate and specific language when giving directions. For example, "the door is on your left", rather than "the door is over there".

Don’t assume you know better. Ask the patient if they would like some assistance. Don’t grab their arm, announce what you’re doing first. Eg. “Would you like to take my arm and follow me to the consulting room? I’ll walk you to the chair.”

This is a good general consulting tip for sighted patients too. Noisy rooms are particularly distracting to patients as they can’t give their undivided attention. Tip: in particularly noisy environments, get the patient to repeat any directions you give so you are confident they have understood.

When examining the patient, announce what they should expect. Eg. “Mrs Smith, I’m just going to use my hand to have a look at your left eye.”

For example, if the person has no central vision, they may not understand how to “look straight ahead”. So they may prefer you to direct them to move their eyes left, right, up and down until they are positioned correctly for the assessment.

Best advice

After speaking to many patients going through consultations, Ms McKee says the best piece of advice she could give is refer people to support services early.

“Many say they wish their doctor had connected them with vision rehabilitation services early, either by speaking to them about these services directly, by training their reception staff to have this conversation, or by simply having written information (e.g. brochures) available in the waiting area.”

— Courtney McKee, Psychologist

Advanced help

Sighted Guide Training

For more advanced help, the sighted guide technique is a good skill to learn when you greet people and assist them to move between the waiting room and your clinic room. Vision Australia provides training in this skillset and can work with you and your reception staff.

Contact us Call 1300 84 74 66

More helpful resources

For more tips in assisting patients with a vision condition, visit our helpful resources section for patients, family, friends and carers.