Glaucoma Mantras

Communicating with patients in ways that speak to them.

Glaucoma specialists have certain phrases that they use repeatedly when communicating with patients to help them understand their disease, the importance of using their eyedrops, and why they might need surgery. Glaucoma Physician asked several well-respected glaucoma experts what phrases they use and why and how they are helpful.

“Where one eye goes, the other tends to follow.” I say this to patients who don’t understand why their better eye needs treatment when it seems fine to them. Channeling Yogi Berra, I often say lightly and gently to my patients, “The drops work best when you use them.” I find that this often starts a dialogue where we both learn something: the patients about how common nonadherence and vision loss are in glaucoma, me about what they consider “using” their drops.

Jonathan S. Myers, MD, Codirector, Wills Eye Glaucoma Service, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We aren’t going to let you go blind.”

John Berdahl, MD, Vance Thompson Vision, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

“Your job is to avoid skipping drops and appointments. My job is to worry about everything else.”

Malik Y. Kahook, MD, The Slater Family Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology, The University of Colorado Department of Ophthalmology, Denver, Colorado

“The optic nerve is like a cable that connects the eye to the brain, just like a cable to a TV. If that nerve or cable doesn’t work, then there’s no signal, and you lose the picture.” This is how I explain to patients the importance of keeping pressure down to protect the optic nerve. Also, at follow-up exams, I assume every patient misses drops and therefore I don’t ask, “Are you taking your medications?” Rather, I ask, “How many drops do you miss a day?” or “On average, how many times a week are you missing your drops? Two to three? More?” I try to make them feel comfortable admitting that they miss drops.

Inder Paul Singh, MD, Eye Centers of Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin

“Take your drops and keep your appointments.” When patients ask what they can do in terms of their diet or other aspects of their life to better control their glaucoma, I tell them this, and that beyond that, they should not worry too much.

Savak “Sev” Teymoorian, MD, MBA Harvard Eye Associates, Laguna Hills, California

“I’m not the one treating your glaucoma, you are.” I use this phrase to explain to patients why it’s important that they take their drops.

Nathan M. Radcliffe, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, NYU Langone Medical Center and surgeon, New York Eye Surgery Center, New York, New York

“I’m just an overeducated eye plumber.” Patients try to understand surgery, but I tell them not to overthink it. I tell them the eye has plumbing like their sink does, and I will work to clear out clogs.

Steven R. Sarkisian Jr., MD, Dean McGee Eye Institute at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

“The cornea is just a window; it’s the optic nerve that matters.”

Richard A. Lewis, MD, Sacramento Eye Consultants, Sacramento, California