By Clint Taylor, OD
April 22, 2020
When the pandemic worsened, and local governments ordered shutdowns of all “non-essential” services, optometric practices stopped providing routine eyecare. Fortunately, some relief has been provided by Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. Here is how my practice is using money from the loan we obtained, and other ways we are making it through this crisis.
We applied for and obtained the SBA 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. This loan, which is based on prior payroll expenses, will cover most payroll and certain other expenses for an eight-week period. As a result, I have resumed paying my staff at 100 percent of their usual compensation, despite our employees only working about 50 percent of their normal hours.
We plan to continue in this way for the full eight-week period covered by PPP, and then we’ll re-evaluate. One thing that has not changed is that we still want to maintain our well-trained staff members for the duration.
Open communication with staff during this time is critical. They’re going to have concerns. They’re going to wonder about the future of our practice and about their job security. They’re going to wonder how their roles will change once we get back to “normal.” So, I’ve done my best to be transparent with them, and to keep them updated on the ever-changing information.
Reach Out to Your Local Bank
The relationship I already had with my local bank has been key throughout this time. My bank made applying for and receiving the PPP funds easy. They have been my advocate during this time, and I am thankful for my relationship with them.
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In fact, I plan to use this example of how our bank took care of us as an illustration to my staff about customer service. If you take care of your patients/customers/clients, that strengthens your relationship with them and builds loyalty. And loyalty is priceless in any industry.
Revising Practice Budget
I edited our 2020 budget to reflect the changes I expect to come out of this crisis. We don’t know how long our current situation will last, but I penciled in at least a 50 percent drop in revenue for the next four months. One advantage optometry offices will have during this period is that as revenues go down, so will many expenses.
Cost of goods, credit-card fees and medical supplies should all decrease along with revenues. Some other expenses, however, are not related to revenue. I went through these expenses and looked for ones that weren’t vital to our business survival at this time and then made cuts when possible.
For example, we temporarily discontinued our cleaning service, with staff cleaning the office for now. We also decreased our advertising and travel budgets. After running the numbers on the new budget, I was encouraged.
In addition to receiving the PPP funds, we received a “stimulus” payment from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) based on last year’s Medicare payments. Questions remain about how long this will last and how the landscape will look when things get back to the new normal. However, I’m confident that our office is well positioned to weather this storm.
Communicating & Rescheduling Patients
When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines came out recommending emergent eyecare visits only, we immediately discontinued all routine care. Our staff called each patient with non-emergent visits scheduled and moved them to a later date. Most patients were understanding about this. We have the time at the moment to reach out to patients, and we’re taking advantage of this opportunity to personally connect with them.
We also have kept our patients informed via social media. Our precautions have progressed through phases. Phase one was taking extra steps to disinfect and clean. Phase two was limiting the number and type of patients and guests in our office. Phase three was locking the front door and only allowing emergency patients into our office. When each phase was implemented, we posted on Facebook regarding the precautions. We also sent an e-mail to our contact-lens patients letting them know we have the ability to direct ship contacts to their door. Click HERE to read the text of this e-mail Dr. Taylor’s practice sent to patients.
We continue to communicate with our patients via social media channels. Most of our posts are either reminding our patients that we’re here for emergencies if they need us or letting them know they can still buy contact lenses from us.
Clint Taylor, OD, is the owner of Taylor Eye Care in Carmi, Ill., a one-OD, one-location practice with eight support-staff members that delivered about 3,000 comprehensive eye exams in 2019. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org