In order to gain approval as an autism-friendly opticians, we had to take a step back and look at the practice’s layout and procedures through the eyes of those patients who we were trying to better meet the needs of.
We began by inviting the National Autistic Society to the practice, which sent a support worker and five volunteers who have autism. During this initial visit, we gave them a tour of the store, before hosting a focus group to find out what aspects of the practice they would be affected by if they were attending the store for an eye examination.
Importantly, we learnt that what may affect one patient who has autism may not affect another. However, the general feedback was that the store was very loud and busy, while background music and the television were a distraction.
Small changes make a big difference
Using this feedback, we were able to implement some very simple changes, which included introducing a ‘quiet zone’ in the store on Tuesdays and Fridays. On these days from 9.30–11am, we don’t have any music playing or the television on. This means that if a patient that has ASD characteristics is looking to attend the practice for an eye test, and they want less distractions, we can offer them appointments during these periods.
We then looked at the layout of the practice and identified an area at the back of the store, as well as one on the second floor, that could be used as ‘quiet areas.’ These provide us with areas where there are no distractions and we can discuss the sight test, as well as frame options, in an environment they feel comfortable in.
Feedback has also informed us also that patients who have autism may only wish to see one or two people and, because we are a large store, this doesn’t always happen. Therefore, we now ensure that we provide this consistency to patients who request it. Staff are also made aware of this requirement and these patients are greeted at the door by the one person who will deal with them through the entire patient journey.
Information is key
Speaking to our focus group participants, we learnt that patients who have ASD characteristics could be anxious about the sight test procedure due to a lack of knowledge, especially those who had never had one before. As a result, we worked with Specsavers’ central media team to produce an information leaflet that patients can download from our website and that we can post to patients ahead of their appointment. It’s in a fun cartoon format and explains the whole process of an eye test in order to demystify the process.
We also put a statement of intent on our website that lets our patients know that we are autism-friendly and that we have quiet areas in the store, as well as the times of our weekly ‘quiet zones.’
In addition, we have amended our booking process. All patients who book through our call centre are asked if they have any special requirements. If they tell us that they do, a note is put onto the system, which is then passed onto the manager or supervisor who is in on the day of the appointment. They brief staff to be ready when that person comes into store. The question is reiterated when the centre calls patients to remind them of their appointment.
We have seen many benefits of asking patients this simple question and it is bringing in additional requests too, which allows us to better meet the needs of all of our patients.
"We had to take a step back and look at the practice's layout and procedures through the eyes of those patients who we were trying to better meet the needs of"
While all of these things are important, we found that having helpful and friendly staff who are willing to adapt to the situation is of utmost importance.
As a result, a representative from the National Autistic Society visited the store to deliver group training on how to look after a patient who has autism coming in to the practice. There were lots of misconceptions tackled and expelled during the session.
We will now embed this in our on going staff training so we maintain these standards.
Once these changes had been implemented, volunteers from the National Autistic Society ‘mystery shopped’ us to ensure that we were as good as we could be at meeting their needs. We will now continue to run these mystery shops once or twice a year to ensure that we are maintaining these standards and meeting these patients’ needs as best we can.
Becoming the only opticians in the UK to gain autism-friendly approval has enabled us to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. However, we will not rest on our laurels and want to ensure that the service level is maintained.
We are due a re-brand in a few months and will continue to work with the National Autistic Society to ensure that the environment remains suitable for all.