By Keshav Bhat, OD
Feb. 17, 2021
We are nearing the year mark of the pandemic in the U.S., and it has been a blow to every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally. Our ability to provide easy access to care has been impacted, as have our practice revenues–usually not for the better.
But there’s a bright side to the challenges to our practices posed by COVID–an opportunity to make improvements that will benefit our patients and us for years to come.
Paperwork has been a thorn in our sides for years. The amount of paperwork patients have to fill out in every medical office is ever expanding, with increasing compliance requirements. This is particularly so in optometric practices. We have our patients sign off on contact lens fees, on (non)return policies of custom eyewear, financial responsibilities and more. All of these documents, once scanned into the patient’s EHR file, go straight to the shredder.
With the onset of the pandemic, we mandated that all patients must fill out necessary forms on our website prior to their visit, to minimize having to touch things handled by others. I found a service called FormDr, created all the necessary forms (making almost all fields mandatory) and embedded it on our office website. Our town and my practice is composed mostly of younger individuals who are computer savvy, and therefore, this transition did not pose a problem. Our staff do oral interviews to complete the check-in process and then wipe down with sanitizer the iPad they used to input the information.
In addition to the greater cleanliness of moving all forms online, our practice is doing its part to help the environment. Every tree saved is a tree planted!
Patients love this. Even though we have moved our office seating to accommodate social distancing, our advice to remain in the car and only enter upon receiving text notification has been a huge hit. Our pretesting staff greets and accompanies the patient to the rooms. It’s more efficient and comfortable for patients.
We recently purchased a school locker system, which is placed outside our office door (we have a covered space) in which eyeglasses and contact lenses are placed. We text the patient the locker number and code. The patient can then pick up their glasses or contacts anytime, and without interacting with anyone.
Increased Wellness Screening
With an increased desire to be in and out of doctors’ offices, many more patients are willing to sign up for screening photos that we explain can make it easier and faster for us to spot dangers to their eye health and vision. In our office, that means more photos taken with our OCT and Macular Pigment Density Testing (MPOD) screening. In addition to helping to safeguard patients’ eyes, this high-tech screening has increased our revenue stream.
Wellness screening netted us an additional $36,000 in 2020, and that is not taking into account revenues from other medical testing the wellness screening led to.
Editors’ Note: Be sure that you have every third-party patient sign an ADVANCE WRITTEN NOTICE OF NONCOVERAGE for any non-covered test or procedure.
Extended Discussion in the Exam Lane
With so much time spent within the confines of their homes, patients are more engaged in conversations relating to their health and family. It gives me the opportunity to discuss not only current ocular status, but emphasize wellness; particularly the findings from the MPOD testing. I stress the importance of maintaining a balanced diet, not smoking and the benefits of nutraceutical supplementation. Patients are a lot more receptive to the message of “taking care of yourself.” Our vitamin sales are generating substantial profits to the practice.
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The same can be said for the detection and management of dry eye. A small investment of an iPad connection to the slit lamp has allowed us to document and demonstrate ocular surface disorders and make appropriate recommendations for a variety of procedures like iLux, in-office sales of lid cleansers, lubricating gels and ointments. This may seem like small potatoes, but these services and products make a positive impact on patients’ lives and offer a significant improvement to your bottom line.
We have strongly advocated for lid cleansers for all new contact lens wearers. These accessory sales accounted for $14,000 last year!
Being in Charlotte, N.C., a banking town–home to headquarters for Bank of America and Wells Fargo–many of my patients were forced to use homes as offices. The extended time I spent in exam room conversation uncovered the frequent need for computer eyewear, which boosted our second-pair revenue in 2020 by $7,000.
Benefits Verified in Advance
Another positive change we implemented during the pandemic is asking patients to sign up for eligibility and benefits verification.This allows my staff to know patient eligibility, deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance and unused insurance benefits before the patient arrives for their appointment. As most of my patients are working on laptops from home, the need for a computer eyewear as an essential tool has boosted our second-pair sales. We now know before the patient is in our office how to guide them to maximize their vision benefits to purchase that much-needed pair of computer glasses.
This disruption has forced us to adapt quickly, creatively and collaboratively. What we considered as daily routines and norms have been interrupted so drastically that we have the option, and some would argue the necessity, to define new norms. All of the above choices have clearly made the rough times a lot more bearable–and profitable.