August 8: Luo’ping Village
It’s week two of screening (I’ve skipped a few days to not fall too far behind), we’re at a new hospital, and from the lukewarm reception we had received during our training back in mid-July we knew this hospital would be more of a challenge.
Our first stop is Luo’ping Village, a sizable village about a half-hour drive away from the county city. Instead of the elderly Dr. Xie, we are welcomed by a much younger Dr. Xie—his daughter, and the one who would be in charge of eye-related services. “I’m already 69, I’m too old for this,” he says matter-of-factly while waving his hand around, “Teach her, she’ll learn fast.”
Unfortunately for us, ZERO announcement has been made prior to our arrival, and the residents of this village are blissfully unaware of the five volunteers that just showed up in their midst. It’s a complete contrast to the receptions we got last week, and we’re a little unsure of what to do as the morning rolls by and one…two…three villagers show up, all of whom have excellent vision and seem delighted to hear us confirm it.
Finally, by the time the afternoon comes we realize we’re going to have to take some more aggressive “patient marketing” measures. We split into three groups: two stay back at the health station, two head off to a cluster of homes nearby, and Dr. Xie takes me on her motorcycle to a cluster further off.
We walk like strangers down the rows of villages. Dr. Xie is the VHW but she’s only been working with her father here for about a year, and as a result doesn’t know most of the villagers as well as I had hoped. Suddenly, we walk past an open door and a voice calls out; it’s a good friend of Dr. Xie who invites us into his house for tea.
We explain to him what we’re doing here, and set up the vision chart for his elderly mother. As we proceed with the screening, our host Mr. Zhou slips out the door and soon returns guiding an elderly neighbor by the arm. More patients soon stream in, some brought by Mr. Zhou, others simply curious onlookers.
“Come get your vision checked,” Mr. Zhou calls out cheerfully to the elderly lady peeking in from the doorway.
“Is it free?” is the first question out of her mouth.
“Free,” Mr. Zhou says definitively.
Despite the lack of village committee support and prior marketing, we leave the village having screened a solid 15 patients, most of who were examined in Mr. Zhou’s home.
We speak of “patient marketing” as if there is some magic formula out there to get patients to swarm to us, if only we can find it. In truth, that effort is probably better spent on making friends with the people that matter: the VHW, the village committee, and “key informants”—specific villagers like Mr. Zhou who have the ability to inform and draw in everyone else. Mechanisms for word-of-mouth marketing already exist in villages here. Convince the right people that vision screening is an endeavor worth doing well, and the rest will come.