By Christopher Berry, OD
June 3, 2020
It’s finally time to start serving our patients again for routine eyecare. The challenge is finding the balance between providing access to care and keeping staff and patients safe–all the while getting back on a strong financial footing. Here is how my practice is doing it.
Notifying Staff It’s Time to Restart
The State of Oregon, where our office is located, began allowing non-emergency medical care and procedures May 1. This has allowed optometry offices, dentists and other medical offices to open to a greater extent. We reduced the number of patients we normally see per day by 50 percent. We also are significantly limiting the number of walk-ins that are there to browse, pick up glasses or get eyewear repairs.
We notified our staff by e-mail on April 24 that the governor and Oregon Health Authority were allowing us to reopen. We had two staff meetings (to maintain social distancing) Wednesday April 29 to discuss our reopening and new procedures and protocols. We also welcomed the staff back with a surprise bonus check. The following day we had our “soft opening.”
We were open, but did not schedule any patients to ease back into things. Our entire staff returned for the staff meeting, but we had a few of our staff who have since not returned for various reasons. One wanted to go part-time, which didn’t work with our needs. A couple others had daycare and family issues that have postponed their return. By far, the majority of our staff has been enthusiastic and eager to help us get back up to speed.
Comprehensive Investment in Personal Protective Equipment
To prepare to open we also purchased all the PPE that would allow us to reopen in the safest way possible for our staff and patients. Surgical gloves, surgical masks, hydrogen peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, cavicide disinfectant, Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer are some of the items we lined up for use. Luckily, we tend to buy in bulk and had a significant number of these items already on hand. We purchased more of these supplies online, as well as finding some scarce supplies at smaller, more out-of-the-way stores, and even getting some precious Clorox wipes from family and friends. We placed hand sanitizer dispensers in obvious and convenient places throughout the office for staff and patients.
The “New Normal” Protocol
All staff and patients are required to wear masks while in our office. All staff are required to take their temperatures every morning and record this upon coming into the office. Our front desk takes each patient’s temperature with a touch-less thermometer and then records their temperature in their chart. Patients are also screened with a questionnaire on any COVID-19 symptoms they may be experiencing.
Other Articles to Explore
When patients make their appointments they are told to come alone to their exam unless they must have a caregiver or the patient is a young child. If they do come to the exam with anyone, their guest is asked to wait in the car or outside. Patients are also asked to wait in their car if the office becomes crowded enough that an appropriate six feet of spacing cannot be maintained. Each exam room and piece of equipment is thoroughly sanitized before each new patient enters.
We installed larger breath shields on our slit lamps, plexiglass shields for our front desk and breath shields for the optician’s pupilometers, There was some cost to this new protective equipment, but it was necessary and well worth it to keep staff and patients safe.
A New Optical Shopping Experience
We also made changes in our optical area. Patients are informed that, if they try on or touch a frame, to not return it back to the board. An optician leads the patient in the frame selection process, so that the guidelines are followed. All frames that are touched are sterilized with hydrogen peroxide and set to dry before being returned to the board.
Keeping Our Eye on Getting Back to Full Capacity
It has definitely been a challenge to reopen with all the new cleaning procedures and protocol, but we are thrilled to at least be able to open. It has been frustrating not having our entire staff willing to return, but I have tried to focus on the fact that, by far, the majority of our staff has been enthusiastic, energetic and supportive of our reopening.
We will do our best to reward these loyal staff members with bonuses, so that we can offer an added incentive for a strong work performance. As required by the Oregon Health Authority, we also have written guidelines for staff members to reference concerning our COVID-19 procedures to keep staff and patients as safe as possible. These are certainly tough times, but I am still optimistic for our office and profession as a whole.