By Maria Sampalis, OD
May 27, 2020
Reopening comes with many requirements, from investing in the needed personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to finding ways to enable social distancing. Smaller practices, with less manpower and financial leverage, can find this process especially challenging.
I own two practices. One is an independent corporate sublease and the other is an independent practice without any corporate ties. The corporation I sublease from, For Eyes, has provided resources to help my subleased location reopen, but for the one-location, two-employee practice I own that does not have corporate ties, I have had to do it all on my own. Here is how I am managing it.
Lining Up Needed Supplies on a Budget
We reopened for patient care a little over a week ago, as soon as Rhode Island, where my practice is based, allowed eyecare providers to reopen for routine services.
We have spent about $350 so far for masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and Lysol. This is just the beginning of our investment. I expect that we will spend another $500 on equipment and supplies needed to keep our office a safe place for patients.
One of my employees is a senior citizen, while the other is in her early twenties. With the greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19 for older people, I have only asked my younger employee to return for work in person at the office. I will bring back the older employee as COVID-19 infection rate continues to decrease in our community.
I spoke over the phone with my employees prior to reopening about how patient visits will work in this immediate post-pandemic time, including the mask and gloves they will be given to wear and how I will be managing the schedule to limit the number of patients in the office to just one per hour to start with, slowly ramping back up to our usual 2-3 patients per hour over the next month.
E-Blasts to Patients & Individual Communications
We sent the following e-blast to patients to let them know we are ready to see them again for routine eyecare:
We are asking patients to bring a mask, but also will have masks on hand in case they forget to bring one, or if the one they have seems inadequate.
We usually accommodate walk-in patients, but with the heightened safety measures, and the need for social distancing, we are only accepting patients who have prearranged appointments.
In addition to the mass e-mail, my employees are calling patients individually to reschedule appointments, and to explain the new procedures for visiting our office. They also ask patients questions over the phone to screen for COVID-19, such as whether they have been experiencing symptoms like a fever and cough, and whether they have been exposed to anyone with the virus over the last two weeks.
Speeding Up Patient Flow
My staff and I make a point under normal circumstances of taking time to make conversation with our patients, chatting about our families and community. One of the nice things about being a small independent practice is the ease with which we are able to bond with our patients.
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The need to speed up patient flow, so too many patients are not in our office at one time, means that while we are still friendly and cordial, we have had to curtail the chit chat. Fortunately, even patients who usually would be inclined to spend 5-10 minutes chatting are also eager during this time to get in and out as quickly as possible to minimize their risk of infection.
No More Casual Optical Browsing
Like most practices, my patients are accustomed to wandering around on their own in the optical picking up frames, trying them on and putting the frames back on the board themselves.
Now, my optician will place the frames the patient is interested in on a dispensing table, which has been wiped down with Lysol. After frames are tried on by the patient, we put them aside to be washed with soap and water. We do not sell delicate, high-end frames in my office, so spraying the frames with manufacturer-approved disinfectant that kills COVID-19 can be another way, without doing damage to the frames, to ensure that germs are eliminated before the next patient puts the frame on their face.
Connecting to Our Community
I practice in a close-knit community in which it is important to show local people that the businesses they patronize are there for them in a crisis.
As a small practice, with limited financial resources, we do not have a significant advertising budget. One way I get the word out to current and potential patients that I am there for them is by appearing on the local news. HERE, and in the video presented below, is the segment I shot with our local NBC affiliate when researchers found evidence of a link between conjunctivitis and COVID-19:
As we reach out to our patients individually, as a group, and as a community, I want them to know that we are back in business and ready to serve them again–in a safe, comfortable environment.
Maria Sampalis, OD, practices at Sampalis Eye Care in Warwick RI. She is also the founder of Corporate Optometry on Facebook. Dr. Sampalis is also founder of the new job site corporateoptometrycareers.com and www.corporateoptometry.com. She is available for practice management consulting. To contact: firstname.lastname@example.org