Talking politics: How to keep peace in the practice

Talking politics: How to keep peace in the practice

In a 24/7 news cycle, amid a polarizing political season, doctors of optometry must be ready for the impolitic question: Who are you voting for? The question may be innocent enough, but is the best answer no answer at all? AOA members weigh in.

1. Set your policy.

Joe Ellis, O.D., has practiced in Benton, Kentucky—population 4,500—for 30 years. For Dr. Ellis, described as friendly and gregarious, conversation with neighbors comes easily. As a general policy, Dr. Ellis says, doctors and staff at his practice understand that they should refrain from talking politics with patients and among themselves.  

"Our policy manual states that conversations with patients should only relate to eye care and to refrain from talking about any other matters."  

Think ahead about your response should a patient ask, he says.  

"If I get questions regarding what I think or how I will vote, I usually reply, 'these are tough choices to make," says Dr. Ellis, a past AOA president and co-owner of Eye Care Associates of Kentucky, which has five locations.  

2. Respect freedom of speech.

"Even though we enjoy protections of free speech in the United States, it may be ideal to refrain from taking sides in issues, especially those that do not directly affect patient care," says Douglas Totten, O.D., chair of the AOA's Ethics and Values Committee.  

"As optometrists, we should always consider what is best for our patients in all that we do." What's best for patients, Dr. Totten says, is what is laid out in the AOA's Standards of Professional Conduct.  

Among other things, the standards say, "optometrists should conduct themselves with good character in all of their actions to build trust and respect with patients, the public and colleagues. Good character includes but is not limited to honesty, integrity, fairness, kindness and compassion."  

Says Dr. Totten: "The keyword in this section on this topic is respect. We should be respectful of opposing views that patients might bring or share with us. However, when a view may be in opposition to the best interests of the patient and his or her eye health, we have an obligation to share evidence-based information, even if it conflicts with a patient's beliefs." Simply thank them for sharing their opinion.  

3. Elect to change the subject.

Jerry Sude, O.D., is president and founder of Novus Clinic, which operates three locations with 89 employees and 10 doctors of optometry and ophthalmology in the Akron, Ohio, area. Dr. Sude also is co-founder and chair of OD Excellence, LLC, in Healdsburg, California, a practice management group.  

"We don't talk politics in the office," Dr. Sude says, noting that he might make an exception with his business partner and very close friends. "It's a lose-lose situation."  

What's at stake? A casual conversation can take a turn to the tense, especially when political opinions can run strong on all sides. So when the subject comes up, Dr. Sude suggests doctors of optometry learn how to listen politely but pivot. Change the subject. Talk about their eye examination or ask about a favorite subject, such as a family vacation.  

"You're providing a service," says Dr. Sude, adding that it's very important to conduct oneself professionally. "You've got a 50-50 chance of offending somebody. You're much better off staying out of it."

March 2, 2020

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