We conducted a poll of people with DVS to ask them about their perception of the eye profession, three quarters of respondents said they had a negative one.
Top complaints that sufferers of severe vitreous opacities have told us about are:
- Professionals invalidating their experiences. There seems to be some reluctance to accept that a patient’s experience of the severity of their condition can be rational, accurate and proportionate.
- Lack of empathy. Some doctors understandably focus on the the pathology of visual health and can be dismissive of the emotional and practical impact of vision conditions.
- Information about treatment options and further support being withheld.
- Being told that the condition will “get better over time”. Patients feel more frustrated and distressed when this proves not to be the case and it undermines their trust in their doctor.
This experience is unfortunately reflected in the general profile of and research into the condition. Treatments carry significant risks and have variable outcomes while research is almost non-existant. We support the view of Drs Wa and Sebag:
“In view of the fact that floaters are perceived by patients as a significant health problem, it is incumbent on the medical profession to develop effective and safe methods to cure this disease.”
What can you do to help?
- Acknowledge the sufferer’s experience of the severity of his/her situation as valid. A few sympathetic words can make a vast difference. Fears over physical health are only part of the reason a patient is visiting you.
- Explain that eye floaters are quite common, especially in adults. However, it is extremely important to recognise that there is a spectrum of the condition and for the patient to understand where they sit on that spectrum.
- Where appropriate, encourage the patient with practical suggestions for how to improve their quality of life.
- Offer referrals to support agencies or Visual Impairment Groups.
- Explain that surgery is an option if their situation becomes intolerable. Being aware of this option can make sufferers less likely to seek serious intervention prematurely as they feel more confident about waiting.
- Refer them to our charity.
- Help to promote recognition of the condition amongst your peers.
- Do not offer negative counseling. Avoid using words and phrases such as “incurable”, “permanent” or “you’ve got to live with it” or “you have the eyes of a 60 year old” when that person is much younger than this. These will only worsen the patient’s perception of his or her vision problem and general health.
- Do not label the sufferer’s experience as psychological without good reason for thinking it is.
- Do not tell patients that floaters will get better over time if there is unlikely to be a physical change, rather that the patient’s perception of them may do.