By Ian G. Whipple, OD
March 10, 2021
The pandemic put stress on our practices as we rushed to accommodate the many changes needed to keep patients and staff safe. Luckily, at least a few of those changes have been so positive in their impact that we will be continuing with them permanently.
Here are three low-to-no cost changes that any office could make to both increase pandemic safety and create long-term practice improvements.
Frame Sanitation: Permanently Raising the Bar for Cleanliness
Our opticians were always good about regularly cleaning frames, but at the start of the pandemic we changed our frame-cleaning protocol. Patients are given a tray to place every pair of frames that they tried on. Opticians sanitize each frame before it is replaced on the display board. This change has resulted in opticians who are more present and engaged with patients during the frame-selection process.
I hope that sanitation improvements in all areas stick around long after COVID. I appreciate when a fast-food employee is wearing a mask when they hand me my food. I really appreciate that there are no self-serve buffet restaurants in my area – they now have an employee wearing mask and gloves who serves the food. Is it any different for an optical? I think a clean frame goes a long way, now and beyond the pandemic, in making patients feel secure and comfortable while shopping for new eyewear.
One of our frame manufacturers gave us a complimentary frame UV sanitizer when we reordered frames earlier this year. We also spent about $800 on hypochlorous acid to clean frames, which we expect will last for at least 12 months at our current use rate.
The added labor cost of cleaning frames is minimal. My opticians are already there and on the clock. They are easily able to clean frames after patients have left, and they often enjoy each other’s company while doing so.
We want to present ourselves as perfectionists. How can we do that when a frame has makeup smudges from another patient who previously tried it on? I think the overall perception of the office can only improve with this change in sanitation protocol.
The new cleaning system has not resulted in gaps on our frame board. We are usually prepared with under-stock frames, so that our opticians can replace the “holes in the board” with under-stock while they are cleaning the frames a patient just tried on. It is a personal pet peeve of mine when I see empty frame displays. I really like to see a full frame board.
Less Seating & Furniture in the Optical Area: More Pre-Selection of Frames
To improve our social distancing efforts we removed most of the seating in the optical area. Patients who are waiting for their exam now engage with my opticians to pre-select frames. This has reduced noise and keeps people from congregating near our entrance.
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Our opticians love having an early start on frame selection with the patient. They also remark that it is so much quieter in our office when patients are engaged with staff, rather than waiting and talking with their guests. The noise-limitation advantage cannot be understated. Our office gets quite loud. This change keeps the noise down because there aren’t family members hanging out and chatting on our cushy seating.
With almost no place for patients to sit, we now need to make sure there is always a staff member available to help patients stay engaged after completing their paperwork. We have a standing height table where patients can fill out their entrance paperwork–if they have not done so already online. If there is a wait until the start of their exam we have an available optician help them pre-select frames. We hired an additional optician to help during this time. The only cost of implementation of removing reception area furniture is the new staff member. However, I also wish I hadn’t just bought new reception room furniture prior to the COVID pandemic. I will be looking for ways to re-purpose the furniture we removed.
There is no doubt that when patients engage with the opticians prior to their visit, the entire experience is more smooth. This likely leads to a higher-quality experience and sales. Our office’s frame sales are steady from Q3 and Q4 of 2020 compared to Q3 and Q4 from 2021. This isn’t growth, but it also isn’t a decline, and I take that as a huge win in the current environment.
We have had to encourage opticians to stay engaged with our patients. Now that there isn’t a reception area, patients aren’t expected to wait. It is our job to keep them occupied by pre-selecting frames. This has been a fairly easy task for our staff because they see the benefits.
Staff-Less Contact Lens Sales Through CLX: Capturing Online CL Sales
Again, fewer patients in the office = better social distancing. If a patient doesn’t order contact lenses on the day of their exam, we register them in CLX (who we have partnered with for a few years now.) Those patients can order their contact lens supply with us via text/internet order, rather than having to come in or call to purchase.
My staff loves that they don’t have to order the lenses, take payment or dispense the lenses, which are now shipped directly after an order is placed online. My staff has to create an order and account for the sale, but they don’t have to interact directly with the patient. This certainly leads to improved social distancing efforts, but it also improves our efficiency.
Our CLX subscription more than pays for itself in orders that we might not have received otherwise. Additionally, we are saving on staff payroll, as they are freed up in their time to work with patients in the office for exams and eyewear purchases.
We exerted minimal effort in training and implementing CLX. The CLX team did a great job of helping us through the set-up process. We probably spent less than one hour training all staff members on how to use CLX and possibly up to five hours of a single staff member’s time who was tasked with leading the implementation.
Patients tell us they love the text reminders that they are running low on contact lenses and that it is time to reorder. They love the convenience, and I think this shows them that we are a truly modern office that can make their sales experience simple.
We receive an average of five orders per month through the CLX system, and while this may not seem like much, that’s five fewer patients who need to be screened for COVID to enter our office. This saves us time and improves our social distancing efforts. These are patients who might have ordered from online contact lens retailers if they couldn’t so easily order online and get direct shipment from us, so these sales do add up to a significant ROI.