Dr. David Cockrell: Putting patients first through excellent customer service

November 19, 2010

David Cockrell, O.D., AOA trustee, believes his staff is the key to the delivery of the positive experience for his patients.

When David Cockrell, O.D., and his wife, Cherry Cockrell, O.D., started their practice 28 years ago, they had a long-term vision of where they wanted to be in 10 to 20 years. That vision included having friendly, knowledgeable staff to assist them in caring for their patients. Today, that vision allows them to successfully serve the needs of residents in Stillwater, Okla., the 10th largest city in Oklahoma and a state where optometrists enjoy a diverse scope of practice.

Q: You shared that you became an optometrist by accident. You decided on a career in health care and were accepted into the optometric program. Had you thought about any other career options within health care along with optometry? And, ultimately, once you realized optometry would be a good fit for you, what is it about the profession that motivated you?

A: No, not really. I finished college early without a clear plan for my next step in education. I entered a master’s program, completed a commercial pilot’s license and took a position as a charter pilot. I was interested in a career in health care and decided to apply to optometry school while flying. When I was accepted to optometry school I went, thinking that if I don’t want to do it, then I’ll do something else. That’s definitely not the typical route, but that’s the truth.

I am first a full-time practicing optometrist. Cherry and I began our practice 28 years ago. It is surprising to realize that this fall began our 29th year in practice.

When I am not traveling for the AOA, I am in the clinic seeing patients. I think the thing that drives me is, optometry, like all heath care professions, is both interesting and challenging. The challenges in our practice and profession are many. The day-to-day challenges of providing appropriate care are unending and very interesting.

We are fortunate in the great diversity of our patient base.  We have a primary care practice in a rural/small city setting. Because of the setting, our patient presentations are quite diverse. We are able to provide care ranging from InfantSEE® examinations to multiple laser procedures, including refractive laser procedures in our office.

Of the many things that I do in practice, I have come to realize that it is the interpersonal patient interactions that I enjoy the most.

Along with the challenges in patient care are the challenges involved in operating our practice. When Cherry and I started our practice, we envisioned a full scope, multi-doc practice that would provide the many possible areas of optometric care.

We have been fortunate to achieve those dreams and have four doctors and a staff of 25.

Q: On the flip side, what is it about the profession that gives you cause for concern?

A: As odd as it sounds, our profession’s successes, in terms of the scope of practice over the last 25 years, give me cause for concern. I say that because we still have, in virtually every state, many things that we want to change. Are we ready to continue the advancement of our profession?

Health care reform is now a reality in America. I believe for optometry, it will mean an increasingly rapid integration into the full body of health care, from patient care to regulatory actions. We will have to define what that means to optometry or it will be defined for us by competing entities.

Are we ready for that challenge? Are we ready for the changes required?

Our president, Dr. Joe Ellis, believes that everything we do in advocacy for the profession is about ACCESS. Defining what access means to us is to define some of the changes.

All of those changes ultimately revolve around access. Access may mean enhancement to “scope of practice” in some states, access to patients in others, access to third party panels, and all of the above in some.

Are we ready, as a profession, to make the rapid change into EHRs, into quality reporting? I believe we are as ready as any other health care discipline.

Q: Can you share more information about the specifics of your practice and how you go about fulfilling your goal of “creating an atmosphere that each of our atients will want to return to?”

A: I’m in Oklahoma in a rural practice. When people come into our practice, they want and expect to be met with a friendly, familiar face. In our practice we work to create positive patient experiences. We believe that creating that positive experience starts with selecting the right people for our staff.

For every time one of our patients interacts with a doctor, they interact with our staff a minimum of four to five times.
Out of those interactions, patients typically remember two types of experiences: experiences that exceed their expectations and experiences that fail to meet their expectations.

We believe our staff are the key to the delivery of the positive experience for our patients! The only way to achieve a very high level of positive experience/patient satisfaction with the care we provide is through caring, well-trained staff.

Because we believe training is so important, we require our staff to become certified paraoptometrics.

We have seen the results of staff involvement in the program since its inception and appreciate the value it brings to our office.

We believe in it so much that our office pays the entire fee for each staff member, which includes the educational prep courses for certification, the testing and continuing education.

Q: What do you hope for the future of optometry?

A: During my career in optometry, I have been fortunate enough to see optometry become the entry point for eye care in America.

We truly have become the primary eye care professional in the eyes of the public.

For the future, I hope to see optometry fully integrated into all aspects of health care. We are on the verge of achieving that goal.

When Dr. Larry DeCook was president of the AOA 20 years ago, he set a goal of uniformity of practice. We have made great progress toward that goal. My hope and belief is that we will achieve it. 

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