I was recently talking to a group of fellow opticians when the inevitable gripe session began. It is, after all, impossible to put any two or more people of the same profession together in a room and not end up with them airing their grievances, and opticianry is no different. On this day, in particular, the topic of frustration was patient choices. I’m a Millennial, and the other Opticians were younger Boomers and older Gen-Xers, and they wanted to know what it was with my generation’s fixation on chunky plastic frames that leave the OC height about 10mm from the top of a frame with a 40mm B. There was some good-natured ripping into Millennials and their shopping choices, from the aforementioned chunky frames to my generation’s admitted penchant for online shopping.

Then, the topic moved on to something else—lens solution, maybe, or our plans for world domination, I can’t remember which. The experience got me thinking, though. As with a lot of jokes and faux-complaints, the medium is just a harmless way to express a real frustration, and while my fellow opticians were “just kidding,” it seemed like an actual attempt to wrap their minds around something, which, to them, made no sense. They’re from a generation that still views opticianry as more science than art, before the dawn of chain optical, when the importance of fitting values was still emphasized at the entry-level. As a member of a generation that holds apparently adverse values to theirs, it made sense for them to try and ask me to explain those differences to them. Yet it struck me later that, while I may be a superficially good choice for Millennial target research, they had a much wider pool at their disposal: patients.

I’ve worked in a variety of optical environments and heard a lot about what patients do or don’t want, but it didn’t occur to me until several years in that this information always came to us from market research firms, psychological studies, and other anonymous sources. Patients DO want to hear x,y, and z in the dispensary. They DON’T want to hear alpha, beta, gimel. So sayeth the research gods. I’ve quoted these studies in articles myself. They’re backed up by statistical data and hard research. The thought didn’t occur to me until this conversation, though, that the best way to understand the wants, needs, and psychology of my own patients was to ask them myself. Sure, I could offer up what seemed to be the reasons for the popularity of giant zyl frames—a backlash against the minimalist frame aesthetics of the 90s, the Mad Men effect, a love of “artisanal eyewear”—but, could I say for certain that was the case? Had any of my patients ever actually said to me, “I want these Wayfarers with ophthalmic lenses because they remind me of 1960s Italian-made frames?” The more I began to think about it, it was a question that expanded far beyond the realm of frame aesthetics. How much do I—how much do any of us—know exactly what patients want? Have we asked them?

At my very first optical job, our OD wrote a new patient “intake survey,” designed to give her an idea of their particular lifestyle (“Do you play sports? How many hours a day do you spend on a digital device?”) and to steer them towards particular purchasing decisions (“Would you be interested in digital eyewear? Have you ever considered contact lenses?”) It’s a good idea that can be taken a step further. What do patients want? Perhaps its’ time to really find out. What frame lines would they like to see in office? What do they look for? What don’t they want? What do they consider a reasonable price for x services? Those surveys, market research, and studies may be great guidelines for getting a thumb on the pulse of the national average, but, how accurately do they reflect our patients? If we’re frustrated with our patient’s choices—or lack of them—maybe it’s time to ask them why.

People love being asked about themselves, and if the internet has shown us nothing else, it’s that most folks will be incredibly forthcoming when asked about their opinions. A brief survey for all new and returning patients—ranging from their desires and thoughts about frame fashion and lens requirements—may be just the thing to give you a brand new perspective on your patients, and, as a result, the forward direction of your practice. You might find out some surprising new things about the people you’ve been taking care of… and maybe a few things about yourself, too. (Well, not really. Mainly just the people you’re taking care of).

Preston Fassel was born in Houston, Texas and grew up between St. Charles, Missouri and Broken Arrow, Okla.

In 2009, Preston graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Liberal Arts. In 2011, he graduated Cum Laude from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor's of Science.

Preston currently works as an Optician in the Houston area. His interest in the history of eyewear goes back to his time in high school, when he developed an interest in all things vintage.

In addition to his writing for The 20/20 Opticians Handbook and 20/20 Magazine, Preston is a featured writer for Rue Morgue Magazine, where he reviews of horror and science-fiction DVDs. His fiction writing has been featured three times in Swirl magazine, the literary arts journal of Lone Star College and Montgomery County. He is the author of the definitive work on the life of British horror actress Vanessa Howard, Remembering Vanessa, which appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Screem Magazine.