By Mesheca C. Bunyon, OD
April 29, 2020
COVID-19 is continuing to tear through our nation, destroying our economy by attacking industries such as optometry. I have heard countless stories from colleagues who are saddened, overly anxious and confused about their future in our beloved profession. Although COVID-19 has caused doctors to feel extremely vulnerable, this is also a time to begin new policies and procedures that impact how we do business should something like this happen again.
Continue Providing the Services You CAN Provide Via Curbside Delivery
In addition to emergency eyecare, we can continue to be available via telehealth, and we also can continue to dispense contact lenses and eyewear.
We have at least one staff member available daily for phone calls and curbside dispensing to minimize exposure to ourselves and our staff. We are thankful that our staff members have not been laid off, and are still working for us with reduced hours.
Communicate Honestly With Staff & Patients
Though our office is not open full time for patient care, our employees are not forgotten. Staying in constant communication with them through text and e-mail lets them know we still care. Although staff are not receiving full-time hours and pay, I am looking into staff development training that they can take online to further enhance their skills.
Honest communication about the crisis is key. I have let employees know that these are tough economic times, and that it is safer to have as few people in the office as possible. What we know about the virus is that it is spread through physical contact. Optometry is service-based and patient-centered. This makes it extremely difficult to carry out our exam because it involves close contact. We have explained to our staff and patients that this is the reason local governments have deemed routine eyecare “non-essential.”
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Like our staff, patients still need to be in communication with us. My practice sent an e-mail to patients explaining why we are closed, and that we hope to serve them again after reopening. We also posted signage on our door letting patients know that we are open for emergency cases and the dispensing of products. We have emphasized in our messaging that our closure for routine eyecare allows both them and our staff to be protected from COVID-19.
Communication with vendors is also key during this time, as invoices never cease. Most vendors realize the impact that COVID-19 has had on the optometric practices and are offering relief plans on a case-by-case basis. We reached out to each of our practice vendors, as well as our landlord, to discuss deferments on payments.
Make Practice Improvements While You Are Closed
Doctors, this is not a time to be pessimistic, but to pivot. We are using this time to follow-up on possibly adding frame collections we have not previously had the time to research. We also are using this time to explore how we can improve our practice web site.
In addition, we are reaching out to contact lens patients we saw 3-6 months prior who may not have purchased a year supply of contact lenses. We let them know they can order and have their contacts shipped directly to them, or pick up their lenses from our curbside, rather than coming into the office.
These are just a few ideas to do something proactive during this time that can benefit your practice right now.
Stay safe and take comfort in knowing that this period won’t last forever. We can continue to make our practices even better while we are out of the office. I believe that in the midst of the spreading virus, we can spread ideas of hope and practice-building.