The Eyes Have It

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Doctors aren't the only ones who need a good bedside manner. Increasingly, people expect it from optometrists, too. The percent of people who say a caring attitude on the part of eye doctors and their staffs is important tripled between 1992 and 1996, from 7 percent to 21 percent, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Trust in the eye doctor also increased in importance, climbing from 13 percent to 16 percent over the same period.

Reflecting the increasingly personal relationship people are looking for with their optometrist, word-of-mouth advertising is gaining in importance. More than 41 percent of people say they selected their eye doctor based on the recommendation of a friend or relative, up from 37 percent in 1992. Conversely, referral from another health-care professional decreased from 19 percent to13 percent.

Building relationships with customers can be good for optometrists in other ways as well. Twenty-six percent of respondents say they scheduled their last appointment because they were experiencing vision problems, and 10 percent did so because they needed new lenses. Optometrists interested in growing their practices should pay attention to patients' appointment schedules and gently remind them that, like their teeth, their eyes need regular checkups. Fifty-one percent went to an optometrist because it was time for a regular exam and they were notified by the doctor.

Personal allegiance only goes so far, however. For the first time since the AOA began conducting consumer surveys, the price of the examination and eyewear became a notable determinant. In 1996, 8 percent of respondents cited attractive price of eye exam and 6 percent cited attractive price of eyewear as considerations in selecting an eye doctor, up from 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively, in 1992.

For more information, see Caring for the Eyes of America 1998, from the American Optometric Associtation, 243 North Lindbergh Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63141-7881; telephone (800) 262-2210.

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