Member Spotlight: Dr. Luisa Thompson
One advantage of a private optometry practice is being able to develop close relationships with patients. These relationships lead not only to better vision and eye health for patients, but for Dr. Luisa Thompson at Advanced Eye Care in San Antonio, Texas, it can lead to life-changing outcomes for diseases like diabetes.
Dr. Thompson has a personal stake in helping patients who have diabetes manage their condition and develop healthier habits.
“It started with watching my father who, ironically, was an optometrist, go blind from diabetes,” she said. “I wondered, what can I do to prevent this? Am I going to end up this way?”
“I learned that diabetes is a lifestyle disease and that genetics only predisposes you. Only 5% of it is genetics – the other causes are lifestyle-related,” she explained.
To prevent becoming diabetic, Dr. Thompson started educating herself, going as far as to enroll in insulin resistance and nutritional endocrinology practitioner training courses, while studying on weekends.
“The more I learned, the more I realized a lot of my patients were diabetic and did not know how to help themselves,” Dr. Thompson said.
Initially, she tried counseling diabetic patients herself, but “this was really causing havoc because I was always running late spending so much time with patients,” Dr. Thompson explained. “I had the idea, what if I hired one of my classmates?”
And that’s what she did, in what has become a win-win for her patients and her practice. “Now, when I see a patient during my exam who I feel needs some help, I talk to them about it, then ask if they’re interested in seeing my wellness coach, right there in the office,” she said.
At the first meeting, the coach asks the patient a series of questions during a no-charge session that can take up to 2 hours. If they both decide to move forward with the coaching, the patient enrolls in a 12-week coaching program. The entire program is kept affordable, including lab tests for patients not covered by insurance.
An Effective Program With Tangible Results
While the service is still in its early stages, six patients now are meeting with the wellness coach weekly, with some choosing to re-enroll in the program to continue their coaching sessions.
“The purpose is to empower patients to help themselves,” Dr. Thompson said.
“I had a patient who was constantly having eye issues – irritation, inflammation, and a lot of tearing and dry eyes. We ran a test and found that she had leaky gut and was very allergic to gluten. Since the patient started working with the wellness coach, she has changed her diet and her condition has improved ‘tremendously,’” Dr. Thompson said.
“Our coach is more like a functional medicine wellness coach, in that she looks at the body as a whole,” she explained. “We are looking to expand the program to especially treat gut and autoimmune issues, because it seems like those lead to problems with the eyes.”
“Treating lifestyle diseases like diabetes is so perfect for optometrists because we spend more time with the patient than primary care physicians are able to,” Dr. Thompson said. “And if we are doing a comprehensive eye exam, we’re also addressing their medications and all their symptoms and issues.”
Specializing in diabetic and autoimmune disorder patients is not the first time Dr. Thompson has forged a new path in her field — when she first started her career, she was the first female optometrist to serve in the U.S. Army, and then soon after started the first female-owned optometry practice in San Antonio.
“The coaching program has been much better than we ever expected,” Dr. Thompson explained. “It all comes down to the patient getting healthier, which leads to a happier patient and better eyesight.”