By Michael Kling, OD
June 3, 2020
As we reopen our practices, our patients’ experience has changed, including their time in our optical dispensaries. Here is how I have updated my patient flow and optical shopping and cleaning processes to ensure patient and staff safety, while continuing to generate eyewear sales.
Ramping Back Up
We reopened the week of May 11. We usually have two doctors working in our office at one time, with each conducting three comprehensive exams per hour, plus medical eyecare and follow-up visits. This added up to as many as nine patients an hour flowing through our office.
Our New Protocol
When we first reopened, we had only one doctor in the office at a time, conducting just one exam per hour. The second week, we had two doctors back in the office all day, with each doctor seeing one patient an hour for a total of two patients per hour in the office. We are continuing to work our way back to our normal patient volume level.
We have 27 support-staff employees on our payroll, but initially we only brought back half of those employees into the office at any one time to limit the total number of people in the office. As we increase patient volume, we will slowly increase the number of support staff in the office.
Our staff is required to wear masks, as are patients.
Prior to reopening, we had our staff come to our office for a half day to train on the new protocols followed by an hour of role-playing exercises in which staff had the chance to experience the new system both as a patient and as a staff member serving that patient.
We have worked with our alliance, Vision Source, to create the safest and most efficient patient flow and protocols. It has been invaluable having that expert guidance and help from other practice owners experiencing the same challenges.
New Safety Check Before Entering
My office is housed in a two-story building we own, with administrative offices on the first floor and the clinic and dispensary on the top floor, with a coffee bar as you enter. The security gate to the second floor has always been kept open. Now we are closing it.
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When patients get to the top of the staircase leading to the clinic, our coffee bar attendant, who also checks patients in, greets patients, asking their name and whether they have an appointment. The attendant then checks the person’s temperature and goes through a COVID-19 questionnaire with them to make sure they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness.
Once the patient has passed through this entry-way safety check, one of our technicians takes the patient for pre-testing, with very little conversation beyond a cordial greeting and information provided about the tests being performed. Since there have been concerns of possible transmission of COVID-19 through the Goldmann tonometer, we continue to utilize Goldmann tonometry on our glaucoma and glaucoma-suspect patients, and iCare tonometry on all routine eyecare patients.
Gauging Patient Perceptions & Creating a New Experience
We know that the new patient flow won’t mean much if our patients aren’t comfortable in visiting. We have been careful to gauge our patients’ response to returning to our office, and the response, based on our exchanges with them, seems to be positive. No one has expressed anxiety about being in our office. In fact, we have received several positive comments about the safety measures we are taking.
Our optical dispensary has 2,000 square feet with chairs for people to sit and wait for appointments, or for those accompanying patients to appointments. We have removed a few of those chairs to allow for social distancing, and ask friends and family members that accompany the patient to wait in the car.
We are no longer allowing patients to wander on their own trying frames and putting them back on the board themselves. We now ask patients to sit down with an optician at a dispensing desk, with the opticians bringing the patient frames from the board to try on. We are looking at this change as a positive development that may allow for greater sales opportunities, with more one-on-one consultation time with patients.
We have six opticians on staff, and initially brought back just three at a time, alternating schedules. Since that time we have slowly been adding an additional optician per week to get back to where we were before shutting down.
After frames are tried on, we clean them in hot, soapy water using dish-washing detergent, like Palmolive or Dawn, or another similar brand.
Keeping the Whole Office Clean
We are big fans of hypochlorous acid for wiping down surfaces throughout the office. We buy a gallon at a time for around $60, which lasts us for more than a month. We also buy $20 spray bottles to quickly spritz spots like door handles and other frequently touched points in the office.
The New Normal–At Least for a While
We don’t know yet how much of our new routine will be permanent, but we will most likely continue doing it for a while, at least through the end of the year as we await a possible second wave of the virus in the fall.
We want our patients to be both comfortable and safe in our office, as we continue to provide the services, products and patient experience they value.