Eye Deserve More uses patient stories to reinforce the essential care doctors deliver
Excerpted from page 38 of the November/December 2021 edition of AOA Focus.
Cynthia Baker, O.D., was conducting an InfantSEE® eye examination on Emory Mitchell when she spotted something alarming. Initially, Emory’s pupils and eye muscles reacted normally to her tests. But because the baby was so calm and cooperative, Dr. Baker reached for her slit lamp biomicroscope.
“That was the first time that I was able to use a slit lamp on an infant in my 25 years of practice,” she says.
After she looked through the microscope, she remembers thinking, “I’m not really seeing what I’m seeing.” She looked again, then composed herself and told Emory’s mother the news: Her baby had con-genital cataracts. He was referred immediately to a pediatric ophthalmologist and scheduled for surgery.
Post-surgery, Dr. Baker fitted the baby for contact lenses, and at the age of 9 he had intraocular lens implant surgery to replace the natural lenses that were removed when he was an infant. Emory is now 12 and sees 20/40 without eyeglasses.
Dr. Baker, who practices in Denham Springs, Louisiana, and the Mitchell family shared their story of Emory’s diagnosis in text and video through the AOA’s Eye Deserve More campaign. Sharing patient stories—along with expert commentary from doctors of optometry—illustrates the importance of comprehensive eye examinations in a more compelling and memorable way.
“I think this is an effective way to message about the importance of eye examinations. The human-interest stories resonate more,” Dr. Baker says.
In 2021, the AOA launched a new public awareness platform to explain who doctors of optometry are and the care they deliver in communities every day. Eye Deserve More, a multichannel, national consumer campaign, underscores that everyone in the U.S. deserves in-person, comprehensive care from an AOA doctor of optometry.
AOA members see the importance of comprehensive eye exams every day in their practices. But did you know that such exams can detect more than 270 serious health conditions? The vast majority of Americans, at 95%, agree that having good vision is important to their job, according to the AOA’s 2020 Eye-Q SurveyTM. And yet, 58% of Americans had not had a comprehensive eye exam in the previous two years, the study showed.
“One of the things we know is telling a story and providing a specific example is a wonderful way to engage people and help them remember the message,” says Andrea Thau, O.D., former AOA president and an Eye Deserve More campaign participant. “We use stories all the time; when we meet a legislator and are trying to convince them to expand our scope, we’ll often tell a patient’s story. Patients also remember messages better when they hear a story, and it resonates with them.”
Eye Deserve More is partnering with USA Surfing and Olympic professional surfer Caroline Marks, of San Clemente, California. As a surfer, Marks, age 19, is frequently in the sunlight and also needs keen eyesight to excel in her sport. Her brother, Luke, has a pterygium, and she has witnessed his eye-health struggles. Marks, who understands the importance of prevention and regular, in-person eye exams, is using her platform to speak out to other surfers and young people in general about the sun’s risk to our eyes.
Randy Griffin, O.D., is Marks’ doctor: “Being a beach community, we have a few professional surfers. I see folks who are both very, very serious athletes, as well as a lot of casual athletes who are outdoors a lot and exposed to a lot of sunlight, wind and dust.”
To launch Eye Deserve More, the AOA created several videos with Marks and Dr. Griffin to illustrate a strong doctor-patient relationship. The association conducted a media day with top-tier press outlets to help spread the word and launched a social media campaign that ran in the summer, including through the games in Tokyo.
Sharing patient stories can both reassure anxious patients and educate patients who “are not anxious enough,” Dr. Griffin says. He points to those who overwear their contact lenses or don’t protect their eyes in the sun. Sharing other patients’ experiences about eye infections, pingueculae or pterygia can have a greater impact than simply stating the facts about the potential risks, he says. “By sharing these other patient stories, it encourages them to get back on track with proper care.”
Dr. Griffin stresses that doctors of optometry can illustrate the importance of eyecare and explain certain conditions through patient examples while still adhering to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Stories can be compelling without mentioning details, the timeline or even gender, he says.
For the Eye Deserve More campaign, several AOA members have asked their patients if they would be willing to share their stories. Ideally, patients provide permission to use their full name, but the campaign also allows the use of pseudonyms or first-name only. The AOA has developed step-by-step guidance to show doctors how to ask patients to take part in the campaign.
When the AOA asked its members to share impactful patient testimonials, Dr. Thau, who practices in New York, thought immediately of a patient she refers to as Julie S. Chemotherapy from a rare abdominal cancer had caused a cataract in Julie’s eye. But after successful cataract surgery, she was seeing double at a distance. Her ophthalmologist suggested it might be eye muscles that had become misaligned during surgery.
Julie was referred to Dr. Thau, who confirmed the double vision but was determined to discover the cause. Her patient simply wanted prism glasses to help her vision, but Dr. Thau pushed her a bit, convincing her that they needed to know the cause, not only correct the symptom. Julie was scheduled for a follow-up abdominal MRI related to her cancer. She gave Dr. Thau permission to contact her doctor to recommend adding a brain scan to the list. The brain MRI showed “she had not one, but two brain tumors that had been causing this turn,” Dr. Thau explains. “It was interesting because the location of the brain tumors was not in a location someone would expect would generate or create an eye turn. They were in a different part of the brain. I think it was her body’s way of telling us that something was wrong.”
After the AOA covered Julie’s story, Dr. Thau distributed the article link to her patients via text and email. One of her patients emailed her: “It’s funny that I just received your message because today is exactly 19 years since you saved my life.” Dr. Thau had discovered a brain aneurysm in that patient during a comprehensive eye examination.
The gift of music
It can be rewarding for doctors of optometry to see their impact beyond their own patients. In an Eye Deserve More testimony shared by Shane Foster, O.D., an educational talk he gave has expanded knowledge far and wide.
Dr. Foster, who practices in Athens, Ohio, and is the president of the Ohio Optometric Association, was asked to give a presentation at a regional music teachers conference in 2013. At first, he wasn’t sure what impact he could have talking about eyesight to a group of teachers likely focused more on hearing. But, as a former band kid, he quickly thought about how important eyesight is to reading music. Plus, he knew that good vision is critical for any type of learning.
Piano teacher Janice Cook attended that conference, and, as she describes it in her Eye Deserve More testimonial: “Dr. Foster kind of rocked my world. His presentation completely changed the way I think about the whole eye versus ear ‘controversy’ among musicians: Some musicians play mainly by ear and may never learn to read music, so therefore they must be auditory learners; some musicians become great readers and never learn to play by ear, so they therefore must be visual learners. But it is not that simple.”
Cook thought about all her former students who had struggled. She had wondered if they had learning disorders, attention deficit disorder or behavior problems. She had never considered their vision. She has since become passionate and a bit “obsessed” with teaching music students, educator peers, parents and her larger community about the importance of eye care.
After Cook shared her story with the AOA, Dr. Foster was invited to speak at a national music teachers conference in 2022.
“I hope this campaign drives awareness and a sense of urgency in looking at vision and how that relates to learning in classroom settings or learning virtually,” he says. “Hopefully one story makes a difference for someone, just like my presentation made a difference for Janice.”
It is more crucial than ever to emphasize the importance of comprehensive eye exams as many people have forgone regular eye exams during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Foster points out. Children—and adults—have likely been staring at screens more with months of virtual learning. “We don’t know what kind of toll that could have taken on their eyes,” he says.
The campaign continues
The Eye Deserve More campaign continued connecting with the public throughout the 2021 summer and fall. As the new school year approached, the AOA focused its traditional media and social media strategy on educating parents about the importance of comprehensive eye exams before their kids started school. Messages were spread on Instagram by three AOA doctors and 10 Instagram influencers.
An educational infographic illustrated the signs and symptoms to look out for related to children’s vision.
In the fall, the AOA announced a second partnership, this time with pro-basketball player Tacko Fall. By sharing his eye story and the Eye Deserve More campaign message to his more than 1 million social media followers, Fall is helping the AOA continue to elevate the critical role doctors of optometry play in caring for patients’ eye and overall health. The Eye Deserve More campaign continues in 2022, building upon the success of its first year.
“There’s nothing like a good story to help patients remember and understand whatever message you’re trying to deliver,” Dr. Thau says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity—Eye Deserve More is a way to get all of our stories shared with the public. You never know who’s going to be that person who reads the story, hears the story and, most importantly, remembers the story.”
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