By Eric Rettig, OD
May 6, 2020
When practices were mandated to stop providing routine eyecare, a key challenge was deciding what to do with existing patient appointments. Do you just cancel and ask patients to contact your office after you are able to reopen? Or do you take a more proactive approach, rescheduling patients? Here is how our office is doing it.
Rescheduling Patient Appointments, Rather Than Canceling
We called all of our patients that needed to reschedule and moved them to later dates (1-2 months ahead) where we still had openings. In addition to phone calls, we use Solutionreach communication technology to enable patients to communicate with us and reschedule on their own.
Since the rescheduled slots put patient appointments 1-2 months ahead, we now don’t have a huge backlog of patients needing to be scheduled. We’ve also adjusted our schedules to offer additional hours throughout the week to accommodate patients who need to be seen. We had just hired a part-time associate about a month before our closure, and her schedule will be available to handle the overflow of patients.
Regulate Number of Patients in Office
On normal days, our office is BUSY, and having that many people in closed rooms close together doesn’t help our efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.
We decided to only have two doctors in the office at a time and only see 3-4 patients per hour with a maximum of two full exams in that hour. To offset the loss of patient appointments, we increased our hours to 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m. every weekday and 7 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday. Two doctors work 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., then there is a half-hour shift change and cleaning, then two new doctors and a new set of staff come in. This will decrease the number of patients in the office at any given time.
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We are requiring all staff, doctors and patients to wear masks and are providing face shields for staff if desired. We installed plexiglass dividers at our front desk and dispensing areas. We also purchased UV cabinets to sanitize frames and other office equipment, as well as a disinfection fogger which aerosolizes disinfectant and can be sprayed over a large area quickly. The UV cabinet, which we purchased from Midwest Technology, is the correct wavelength to kill C19. It is completely enclosed, so no light actually leaves the cabinet, and it will not turn on unless the doors are closed and locked.
Keeping Staff Updated by Text & E-Mail
We have been communicating via e-mail and text a few times each week giving our laid-off employees updates on what is going on in the office. Hopefully most will be able to rejoin the staff when we reopen, so there will be minimal recruitment and training needed to restart the practice.
Most of the staff that were laid off filed for unemployment compensation, which, with the help of the CARES Act stimulus, has enabled them to have some financial security through the crisis. We have also taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through the CARES Act. We plan to use this money to rehire staff and get them back on full payroll possibly before we open our doors for business. It will also be a cushion to help with the first 4-8 weeks of opening when we are waiting on insurance money to start flowing back in.
Expediting Optical Jobs
Currently our optical is fully stocked and we carry a plethora of single-vision lenses that can be cut the same day in our lab. This should help us get moving with optical jobs as soon as we reopen.
Paying Most of Our Bills Now
We just reevaluated our finances and plan to pay a large majority of our vendors now to try to eliminate having large bills when we are back up and running.
Many of our vendors have been great about allowing us to pay less or defer payments. We are a large account and have great relationships with them. Also, for any office out there, these vendors want your continued business, so it pays for them to be lenient during these times and work with their accounts to maintain successful business into the future. Don’t be afraid to ask for a payment extension if you need it.
Optimize Resources from Your Local Chamber of Commerce
Our local Chamber of Commerce has communicated with all of its members. They’ve also offered webinars and additional information to help local business wade through the uncertainty we are all experiencing.