By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD
June 17, 2020
Many disruptive trends were accelerated by the pandemic. Years of change were turbo-charged into a matter of weeks. So, as we are coming out the pandemic, how many of these changes will continue and perhaps even expand? Let’s look at five of these changes.
COVID PRACTICE CHANGES
Personal protective equipment, hand-washing, social distancing, office disinfection, frame-board disinfection, office zones and personal habit changes are all part of the world we live in now and expect to live in for the near future.
We can expect these changes to continue until we have a vaccine or some other medical breakthrough that makes a significant change.
With that in mind, our task is to make the COVID changes as efficient and friendly as possible. One consideration is to utilize masks that have been popularized by our lip reading colleagues. They are clear so that people can see more of the face. There is a lot of power in non-verbal communication both for the patient and the doctor.
One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is that patients love telemedicine. They are able to get care from a person they trust usually the same day with the convenience of not having to travel. Its common for patients to express relief and gratitude for receiving telemedicine care.
The Jobson Optical Research Wave 11 survey results showed that interest in telemedicine as an ongoing service has dropped among practitioners. In the Wave 9 (May 8-12) and Wave 10 (May 22-26) surveys, where the majority of practices were closed (or only partially open), 90 percent of practices that offered telemedicine during the pandemic said they would continue to offer those services. In the Wave 11 survey, where 90 percent of practices were open, the percentage of practices that said they would continue to offer telemedicine services dropped to 65 percent.
The most important loss during the pandemic closures/reduction of practice was the loss of seeing patients face to face. The ability to read body language and non-verbal communication was lost during telephone and text/e-mail message consultations. FaceTime, Google Duo, Zoom, EyecareLive, Doximity and Doxy.me were used during the pandemic to see patients while consulting with them. Soon the non-HIPAA compliant ones will stop being allowed (e.g.: FaceTime, Google Duo, Zoom). Our task if we are to continue utilizing telemedicine is to make sure the practice has transitioned to software that is HIPAA compliant.
The majority of practices relaxed their rules for managing contact lens prescriptions during the pandemic. Expired prescriptions were filled so that patients could continue to wear contact lenses without putting them into the risk of overwear. You can’t put toothpaste back into the tube. Patients are going to expect flexibility after the pandemic.
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Here is the question to answer. How easy in the post-pandemic world is it to order from your practice: glasses, sunglasses, contact lenses or dry eye supplies? Our task is to create systems where it is easy to do business with the practice. Practices that take this approach are the ones that will see increased business in the post-pandemic world. Remember that convenience is a huge driver in the post-pandemic world.
AI & CLOUD COMPUTING
Many practices used the downtime during the pandemic to update their practice management software. Both Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Cloud Computing are the future.
AI gives another helper in the exam room for the doctor as well as opening the door to big data analysis about the practice. In the exam room, AI can not only help with the diagnosis, but also the treatment. AI can check the drugs the doctor is prescribing against all other prescription and non-prescription medications being taken by the patient to identify any potential drug interactions. Big data analysis not only identifies trends within your own practice, but also permits comparison analysis against other like-sized practices.
Cloud computing has advantages on updates, backup and recovery. Anyone who is not utilizing cloud computing has suffered through problems in one or more of those areas. Survival in the new world is not determined by which practice is the strongest, but by which practice can adapt the quickest. Cloud computing gives the practice the newest version of the software the fastest. That’s an advantage.
PRACTICE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT
Prior to the pandemic, only about 20 percent of practices had a budget. Maintaining positive cash flow became a primary focus during the pandemic shutdown and reopening. At this point in time, practices should not be waiting for the profit-and-loss statement given by the practice CPA to see how the practice is doing. AI and business dashboards permit real-time practice analysis. Those practices utilizing systems like this are better positioned coming out the pandemic and moving forward. Our task is to move from running the practice on a budget to running the practice on forecasting.
Here is the definition of forecasting: “Business forecasting is an act of predicting the future economic conditions on the basis of past and present information. It refers to the technique of taking a prospective view of things likely to shape the turn of things in the foreseeable future. As future is always uncertain, there is a need of an organized system of forecasting in a business.”
Since you can’t change history, looking backwards at practice performance while viewing a P&L statement is different from using current performance compared against past performance to “forecast” a change driving future performance.
Take this week to prioritize these five areas in your practice. Work on them, in priority order until you have a plan that makes your practice the best in your part of the world.