Patient Experience

COVID-19: What We Will Be Asking of Patients After Reopening

By Jennifer Stewart, OD

May 6, 2020

When our practices reopen, both we and our patients will have a changed experience to get used to. Part of that changed experience will include patient education about when to come–and not to come–to our office. Here is the guidance we will be giving our patients, along with other changes and preparations taking place for our reopening.

Waiting for the Go-Ahead, Ready to Reach Out to Patients
We will be waiting for guidance at the state and national level to determine when it is appropriate and safe for us to resume routine, comprehensive care.

We will let our patients know when we decide to reopen to routine care and other office appointments. We use Solutionreach for all patient communication (newsletters, appointment reminders, patient surveys). We will send an e-mail to our patients when we are ready to open. We tend to be booked out 4-6 weeks at a time, so I don’t think we’ll have a problem returning to patient care with a full schedule. I am in the process of deciding how to structure appointment times so our office doesn’t get too crowded to allow for social distancing.

Ready to Educate Patients About Needed Precautions
We will still ask patients who have a fever, cough, trouble breathing, have been tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive, to wait an appropriate time period, as advised by their primary care provider, before visiting our office.

We will continue to ask patients who are feeling unwell to postpone their care until they feel better and are safe to visit our office. This has always been our policy, and we will continue to enforce this for the safety of our staff, doctors, patients and everyone’s families. We will continue our frequent disinfection of all surfaces and anything patients touch, including pens. And we will continue to ask patients to please wash their hands when entering the office, and when moving between different rooms in the office.

We will stagger exams to start, allowing for time to fully disinfect instruments between patients and continue to keep proper social distancing. My OD friends and I have also discussed the need to disinfect frames and sunglasses after patients have touched and tried them on, and limiting the number of patients in the optical at a time. We may also ask patients to wait in their cars, texting them when we are ready for them to enter the office.

We will likely limit the number of patients in the office for a time, including exams, optical appointments and overall patient traffic.

Ideas for Generating Immediate Office Traffic & Revenues
With the current expectations, practices are generally planning to be back to some level of patient care by May/June. This, for most practices, is the beginning of the summer period of patient care, and tends to be very busy in a normal year. Combining reopening with patient education tied to UV protection/sunglasses or computer work/blue light are possible revenue-driving ideas for my practice and others.

Also, many practices are keeping a list of patients who have had their appointments cancelled due to office closure- these patients should be the first called to offer appointments to and to generate immediate office traffic. Many practices have been extending contact lens prescriptions and letting patients order a small supply to get patients by until they can come in for an exam (3-6 month supplies). These patients should be ready to reorder or have their exams when offices are up and running again.

Lean On Industry Partnerships
Years of good relations between your practice and vendors will come in handy. Many frame and contact lens vendors have been supportive and have offered special shipping promotions and extended payment terms. Many organizations, such as state optometric associations and groups, like IDOC, have waived or covered monthly dues for optometrists. My colleagues have also shared with me that leasing and finance companies have been flexible in structuring payment schedules.

 

Jennifer Stewart, OD, is a partner in Norwalk Eye Care in Norwalk, Conn. She also is founder and COO of Performance 20/20, a sports vision training center in Stamford, Conn. To contact her: jen.stewart@perform2020.com 

 

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