March 24, 2020
By Jennifer Palombi, OD, FAAO
It’s not enough to diagnose myopia in a young patient. Eye care professionals (ECPs) also must be able to explain to parents why myopia management is important. That is a challenge, but recent research gives some guidance on what works best and what doesn’t work at all.
Through research conducted in August 2019, the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC) determined what parents say about myopia, how they respond to ECPs’ explanations about what it is and why it is important to treat it. In Alexandria, Virginia, and Los Angeles, California, three distinct audiences – parents of myopic children, myopic parents and non-myopic parents – were surveyed. Their comments about myopia are revealing.
The research found that parents don’t generally consider eye exams as important as seeing a pediatrician or a dentist. Nor do they respond well to scare tactics or any language that suggests they’re not good parents. Guilt-tripping doesn’t help. Pediatricians are expected to be the gatekeepers of a child’s health, many parents say, so it makes a big difference if a pediatrician recommends an ECP to evaluate a child’s vision.
Another challenge is helping parents see the need to be proactive now to prevent long-term health effects that might not appear until their child is reaching middle age. “Myopia is not the end of the world,” said one parent of a myopic child. “People have vision problems. I wouldn’t call this an epidemic or a major issue. It’s just life.”
The GMAC research includes quotes from parents on how they decided whether to seek an ECP. “I only took my kids for exams because both I and their father have terrible eyes,” said one myopic parent. Yet a non-myopic parent has a different take: “I’ve never taken my kid to the eye doctor. It’s fine as far as I could tell.”
Parents are often more motivated by what they can do right now for their child, according to the GMAC research. “Glaucoma and cataracts, those happen in much, much older people,” said a parent of a myopic child. “I can’t control what happens when they are that age, and I won’t be around. Tell me something that matters now.”
Parents are motivated, though, by pointing out that their child often doesn’t know when there’s something wrong with their vision. According to one non-myopic parent, “I said to my daughter, ‘What does that sign say?’ She didn’t know. She never complained; it didn’t even occur to me. It all checked out at the doctor’s office, but now I should get her checked.”
Effective messages come in three parts – the problem, the reasons myopia management is needed and the best options. Be careful which statistics you present. In the U.S., parents want data specific to their personal experiences, even though the health risks of myopia are the same for every child.
How you present data is also important. When talking to parents, ECPs need to help them understand why there is a rise in myopia. Here’s a message tested with parents that isn’t heavy on statistics and uses relatable milestones to explain the “why” to parents. ECPs told parents, “Many researchers believe that the multi-screen, always-connected way children live, combined with too many close-distance activities and lack of outdoor play, contribute to the rapid growth of myopia among children today.” This approach works, according to the GMAC research.
Parents also respond to discussions about how managing myopia can improve their child’s opportunities to succeed in life. In general, parents devoutly follow other health care milestones in their children’s lives, so showing them that eye exams have those same landmarks can encourage them to plan to add monitoring eye health to their child’s care regimen.
Talking about missing out on sports or standardized tests, though, was too specific and might not apply to every parent, the study found. Broader examples that let parents see the benefit to their child were more effective. “You can make an immediate difference in your child’s health today, period,” said a non-myopic parent. “That’s all I needed to hear.”
The most impactful point, parents said, is when they realized that their child couldn’t tell them when something was wrong with their eyesight. That was a powerful motivation, and rightly so, because it is true and also speaks to a parent’s desire to protect their child. “He didn’t know he couldn’t see,” said one non-myopic parent, “because he lived his whole life like that.”
It’s essential to have an effective strategy to explain myopia to parents, showing them the reasons to take action now. This GMAC research is a good resource to your approach.
Jennifer Palombi, OD, FAAO, is senior manager, professional and scientific communication, CooperVision.