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I can’t see through my new spectacles

U2.6.2 “I can't see through my new spectacles” (2012)

The problem arises when a patient returns to the practice with the words: “I can’t see with these new specs.” Did any other phrase in the English language ever make your heart sink so far? If the prescription dispensed was one from an in-house eye examination, it can be difficult enough but when it’s an outside prescription, problems mount. Who’s to blame – a wrong prescription or a faulty dispense?

Firstly, and most importantly, you have to establish trust with the customer; remember they are feeling uncomfortable and uneasy, even embarrassed and this can come across to you as angry or rude. You need to turn the situation around. Find a quiet area (easier said than done on a Saturday morning) where you can all be seated (they always bring reinforcements don’t they?) A never-to-be-forgotten moment was when a lady gave me back her new glasses saying: ”And my husband can’t see out of them either!” Actually, keeping a sense of humour is enormously helpful. Never appear to be laughing at them but do all that you can to lighten the mood. Remember not to take the complaint personally.

Establishing what is actually wrong is not always easy. Customers often come in full of bluster saying, ”And I want my money back!”, when all they really want is a pair of spectacles they can see with. It may just be a simple misunderstanding, such as reading specs instead of TV specs or a missing tint. Once the nature of the problem is clear then it can be rectified.

Legally, what must you do? There is much consumer legislation that we must obey, primarily the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The law of contract also applies, to both patient and practitioner. The Sale of Goods Act is the one that states that all goods sold must be of ‘merchantable quality’ and ‘fit for purpose’. Thus the spectacles can be reasonably expected not to fall apart in the first week and the patient must be able to see out of them. But, as always, the devil is in the detail. Were the spectacles used in a reasonable way, and not pushed on top of the head, held with teeth or sat upon – all of which patients regularly do to their specs? Similarly, if the spectacles were made up exactly to the prescription but the patient wishes to read with them with their book on their lap, not at the 33cm they told the optometrist, are you responsible?

Practices vary; if you are a small independent practice that employs locum optometrists, your attitude to ‘wrong’ prescriptions is different to that of a manager in a busy multiple where the director did the test. Within a practice it is teamwork; you don’t want to waste a precious appointment when all that’s wrong is the working distance when a patient can’t see to read music with their new reading specs but they could with the old ones. However, the 2.50 cyl that had swung 30˚ but was ‘liked’ in the consulting room may give you pause. Checking with the tester between dispensing and ordering such a change, especially when you have just dispensed it as a freeform, photochromatic, high index progressive to  rimless mount, might have been sensible. This is where common sense must carry the day and your communication skills and knowledge of prescriptions must guide you. If satisfaction cannot be achieved you have a choice, assuming that you are 100 per cent sure the spectacles are correct to the prescription and measurements. If you wish to be obliging and keep your patient happy to return another time, you can refund the money or exchange the spectacles. If not, you may choose to stick to your guns and risk the customer leaving the practice never to return or maybe risk a solicitor letter citing (incorrectly) breach of contract.

The value of a patient is more than the cost of a pair of spectacles; you risk losing not only that patient but their family, friends and colleagues. You feel that you had warned them of potential problems but the fact is, the appliance is not as they expected or doing the task it was hoped to do. Give in graciously. When you are costing spectacles, the usual things have to be included – overheads, staff salaries, bank charges, insurance – but always remember to include a percentage for nontolerances.

Even the best practices sometimes have to admit defeat and refund or exchange; it is an acceptable cost to the business. I believe that to refund the money will reward you many times over. Building a practice is not a quick exercise; if you fail to make suitable spectacles but do everything to rectify the problem, including refunding the money, you will be forgiven if the customer leaves your premises feeling they have been well served and are happy to return. You may not wish to see them ever again of course. At the very beginning of your conversation say something like: “We want you to be happy with these spectacles, you haven’t paid £X to leave them in a drawer”. Those patients who don’t return, but are unhappy, are the ones to worry about; you will never get another chance to make them

Having said all of that, what about the poor member who did it all – changed the specs, rechecked the prescription etc, but who was asked after a gap of two years to refund the money. My advice to them was to politely decline a refund, and fervently hope they never come into your practice ever again.

#non tolerance #dispensing