By Ian G. Whipple, OD
May 13, 2020
With practices slowly reopening across many parts of the country, it is now time to move into phase two of the crisis–welcoming patients back into our offices.
Keeping our patients and staff safe as we provide care is the top priority, but we also have to think about how we will market our reopening and generate optical sales. Here is the approach I plan to take in my practice.
We have been seeing one patient per hour since May 4. We plan to watch our state COVID-19 infection rate numbers and add a few more patients per day each week if possible.
Patients Are Eager for Access Again to “Routine” Eyecare
If there is one thing that I have learned throughout this crisis, it is that optometric care, even routine optometric care, is essential. I cannot begin to count the number of patients who have called our office with what appears to be routine refractive complaints. When we listen to the entire story, however, it is apparent that their refractive concerns are affecting their well being.
How can I tell a mother with broken glasses that she is going to have to wait to obtain glasses and she’ll just have to struggle through home-schooling her children with broken glasses until this pandemic ends? We have been able to remake broken pairs of glasses, extend contact lens prescriptions, and in a few rare cases, perform a refraction to get a patient through the isolation of stay-home/stay-safe orders. I look forward to offering eyecare again soon.
Investing in Personal Protective Equipment
We have been preparing for a reopening by obtaining adequate personal protective equipment (3,500 surgical masks, 8,000 gloves and 15 face-shields, so far) and writing cleaning protocols.
In addition, we have installed slit lamp sneeze barriers and plan to completely eliminate the use of community pens and clipboards. Additionally, all staff members will have their own hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and Pure and Clean (hypochlorous acid.)
We have already implemented screening questions and measurements with infrared thermometers, and any temperatures 100.4 °F or greater will be rescheduled. We are installing a lock on the office bathroom and making sure patients know that our restroom is available, but that it will be completely cleaned and disinfected after each use.
No Big Events, But Promotional Offers
A live grand re-opening or special event is not appropriate when we have been advised to continue social distancing, but we are considering virtual events including Facebook Live broadcasts, giveaways and other promotions, such as an extend-your-stimulus-check promotion that would offer $125 of value for every $100 spent in our office.
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I think this “extend your rebate” promotion will be successful. I also expect that there may be patients who are furloughed and have vision benefits for now, but they may be anxious to use these benefits because of the uncertainty of continued employment. We need to see these patients! I plan to use social media and internal marketing (text or e-mail) blasts to get the word out.
Long-term, we are working on adding a sunglasses “storefront” to our practice web site so that as soon as patients get to our web site, they will see a place to click especially for sunglasses. This is one of the projects I have been working on during the office shutdown.
Creating an Educational Video for Patients About Our Reopening
We have prepared a video that will show and explain what our reopened office experience will look and feel like. I want patients to know what they can expect when the come in for their exam. Patients will check-in via text and they’ll tell us what size of gloves they need.
Our patient coordinator will bring them a bag that contains their requested size of gloves, a surgical mask, and a branded pen that they’ll use in our office (because all other pens have been removed.) I want patients to know that our staff and doctors will be wearing gloves, masks and face shields. This video will be critical in setting patient expectations.