Meet a doctor who’s literally opening peoples’ eyes to better vision, and find out why he’s so passionate about giving customers quality service and procedures.
Dr. Richard Miller has been treating patients for eye conditions in Rockford for 25 years. In that time, the ophthalmology surgeon estimates he’s performed 18,000 cataract procedures and 1,100 premium (astigmatism or bifocal correcting) lens implants. That level of experience is what sets his practice apart.
“Experience is everything,” Miller says. “While I’ve done 1,100 premium multifocal and Toric implants, most others in the area haven’t even done 100. The more you perform a procedure, the more proficient you become. It also prepares you to handle any complications that may arise.”
Services offered by the four doctors at Miller Eye Center, 2995 Eastrock Dr., Rockford, include routine eye exams for glasses or contacts; treatment and surgery of most major eye diseases, including retinal, corneal, cataract and glaucoma; as well as laser surgery, including LASIK.
The Miller Eye Center optical shop provides a wide selection of lenses and more than 1,000 frame choices, along with Visioffice, a digital system that records 20 distinct facial measurements in seconds and recalibrates a lens prescription to fit the patient’s face. “This means more accurate placement of bifocals, and better peripheral vision,” Miller says. “It allows us to make your vision the best it can be.”
The pleasant, spacious waiting room bustles with activity – patients checking in and out, looking at frames, making appointments. Seating can accommodate upwards of 40, and there are days when almost all the chairs are filled.
Miller says there are just two things he does to ensure success in his practice: “No. 1 is to give patients the best and latest medical care. No. 2 is to get good results.”
So, while he stays abreast of new treatments and technology, he carefully evaluates the latest trends, to make certain of their appropriateness, before implementing them.
“The multifocal implants are 25 years old, but they only recently reached an 80-percent success rate in not wearing glasses for near and distance vision,” Miller points out. “So I’m a late starter in refractive surgery, but I wanted to be certain it was perfected. There’s a fine balance between staying on the cutting edge and making sure you’re not jumping on the latest fad. I’ve repaired the complications of other surgeons, and I won’t take unnecessary risks with my patients.”
Miller started private practice in 1992, in an 8,000-square-foot space on State Street in Rockford. He bought and remodeled the 25,000 square-foot former Danfoss building six years ago, to accommodate a mushrooming caseload. In addition to those seeking yearly screening exams, treatment for one-time injuries or short-term problems and vision correction, Miller Eye Center takes care of 41,000 active patients – many of whom require regular treatment and diligent monitoring of their conditions to preserve their vision.
“These are people with macular degeneration, diabetes, hypertensive retinopathy, glaucoma,” Miller explains. “Diabetes is the No. 1 leading cause of blindness in the United States, but with early detection, that chance is reduced by 94 percent. Glaucoma is the No. 2 cause, and while the disease isn’t curable, treatment can prevent any worsening. We monitor some 6,000 patients for glaucoma, and very few go blind. The key here is that blindness can be avoided, by appropriate testing and treatment.”
Miller believes that educating patients is an essential part of providing good healthcare; as with any health issue, frequent screenings are vital in the early detection and effective treatment of these complex eye diseases. For example, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, there are no warning signs for glaucoma; by the time a patient notices vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced, and the loss is irreversible.
“Glaucoma, unfortunately, is a problem because it often goes undiagnosed or isn’t treated aggressively enough,” Miller points out. “Measuring eye pressure once a year with that puff of air isn’t enough – two out of five pressures can be normal with the disease present. The only way to effectively check for it is to dilate the eye and look at the optic nerve. Patients hate to be dilated, but it’s necessary.”
Communication is also key. “You have to listen to patients and solve their problems,” Miller says. “Someone may come in complaining of something minor, and you find something else that’s major. Of course, you can’t ignore the major problem. But you have to go to the chief complaint first, and then deal with the other issue, so that the patient knows you were listening.”
Often, patients don’t remember all of the details of their condition or its treatment, just as a matter of course, and Miller thinks many doctors can be too technical in their explanations.
“We don’t talk at our patients – we explain,” he says. “We don’t just say, ‘This is what you have, and this is what we’re going to do.’ We have informational handouts and charts. We give out a list of treatments and instructions. Often, there are options for treatment. A patient has the right to know all of them, and they need to be outlined and discussed, not glossed over. We use sophisticated diagnostic equipment, to get the most accurate testing of the eye, to ensure that a patient is an appropriate candidate for a procedure. And if a patient’s best course of treatment is better handled by another doctor, I give a referral to another doctor.”
Customer referrals are also important.
“Our No. 1 growth factor is word-of-mouth,” Miller says. “In Rockford, everyone talks to everyone else. So without patient satisfaction, you can’t expect to improve your business. And yet you still need to advertise. When I first started my practice, I looked in the Yellow Pages under ‘Ophthalmologist,’ and many of the listings were for doctors in Chicago. People need to know you’re here. I use broadcast and other print media, too.”
The most important piece of success at Miller Eye Center is its skilled staff of 32. “You can’t do everything yourself,” Miller says. “We have well-trained employees who administer tests and explain various processes. They help patients to understand their treatment options and make certain they’re following through. All of our employees are very professional, and very caring.”
Miller enjoys helping people to see better. “I get a high level of satisfaction with my specialty, corneal transplantation,” he says. “With that surgery, I’ve brought people from needing guide dogs to driving a car. We’ve seen so many advancements in cataract and vision correction in the last five years. I believe that 20 years from now, no one will be wearing glasses.”
Miller has always been interested in science, and he wanted to find a way to marry science with helping people. “I’m very good with my hands,” he says. “Even when I was young, I could isolate protozoa and other small organisms under a microscope, so I was naturally attracted to microsurgery.”
During med school, Miller especially enjoyed his ophthalmology rotation, so when it came time to decide on an area of focus, that’s what he chose. “You really can fix almost anything in the front of the eye,” he says. “I wanted to do something where I knew I could be highly effective.”
His choice required an extra three years of study, which he undertook at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Because he wanted to specialize in corneal transplants, he then took a year-long fellowship at University of Minnesota. After he finished, Miller spent two years as Director of the Cataract and Corneal Transplant Division at University of Chicago.
“It was an important job, but I spent a great deal of time on research and administration,” Miller says. “I wanted to treat patients.” So he came to Rockford and worked for SwedishAmerican Health System, at Brookside Medical Group, for about six years, before going into private practice.
Miller notes that business was down a year and a half ago, which he attributes to a combination of the economy and poor insurance coverage. “We’re seeing co-pays as high as $75 for office visits, and that makes people reluctant to see their doctors,” he says.
Because of this, Miller Eye Center is trying to help. “We offered half-price diabetic testing during Diabetes Awareness Month,” says Miller. A basic eye exam costs as little as $45. “For larger expenditures, we provide financing – with no interest – to help patients to get the care they need. We’re always looking for cost-effective options for a patient. We know times are tough.”
Business has improved over the past six months, which Miller attributes in part to these cost-saving options.
The favorite part of Miller’s job is helping patients to see better. “The happiest people I see are those who throw their glasses away when we’re finished,” he says. “It’s a fantastic feeling.” ❚