Practice Management

Secret to Thriving During a Pandemic: The Extra Help That’s Making a Huge Difference

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By Bryan Heitmeyer, OD,
Georgiann Jensen, OD,
and Michel Maiers, OD

Sept. 9, 2020

COVID-19 has posed the greatest challenge to optometric practices in at least a generation. Fortunately, with the right support from industry partners, many optometrists have been able to continue flourishing, despite the difficulties. Three ODs recently shared with Review of Optometric Business how they are managing to thrive, including the business relationship that has made all the difference for them.

Bryan Heitmeyer, OD
Clearvue Vision Center, PLLC
Kent, Wash.

We are almost at full capacity. Fortunately, we expanded our office a year ago, so that gives us the ability to spread our patients out to limit crowding in the office. We underestimated the demand for care after the stay-at-home orders were lifted in Washington State. Our schedule was full for June and July, and August had a similar high demand. We’ve had some of our highest optical sales ever since returning to routine care.

IDOC did a tremendous job of providing guidance to us during this challenging time. IDOC’s podcasts and Facebook Live events helped us better understand the CARES Act. At times the information was changing on a daily basis, and IDOC gave timely and useful updates. There were also some nice IDOC guides for reopening, with a robust amount of information. IDOC has continued to update the information as new best practices become available.

It helped tremendously that IDOC offered specific recommendations on best practices for sanitization, staff training and patient communications. We’ve implemented many of those ideas, and while we have made minor adjustments, many were spot-on.

One of the great things about having a resource like IDOC during a crisis is the ability to connect so easily with peers through virtual roundtable discussions. We are able to share challenges–and ideas for solutions to those challenges.

It would be great if we could continue the momentum of the past few months. We’ve taken advantage of the high unemployment rates to find great additions to our team, which IDOC predicted could be an opportunity for practices. There is still a great deal of uncertainty as schools reopen, with the potential for increased COVID cases. We have taken IDOC’s Nathan Hayes’ advice around having liquidity available should we have another interruption to our cash flow. We’ve taken steps to put ourselves in a solid position to weather another potential stay-at-home order.

Georgiann Jensen, OD
Blaine Eye Clinic
Blaine, Minn.

Our ongoing challenges include monitoring personal protective equipment (PPE) inventory, accommodating a completely new check-in process, monitoring the amount of people in the optical, keeping up with COVID guidelines regarding our staff and their families and addressing a wide array of opinions from patients, especially of what we “should” be doing. June revenue was low. July showed definite progress, and August continued to build on that progress.

We’ve loved listening to Nathan Hayes’ IDOC webinars. He has been accessible for consultation on specific questions, which has been amazing. I think the biggest thing is how Hayes helped guide us through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) process. We needed this loan to survive, and he helped guide us to make sure we were doing everything we could to obtain full debt forgiveness. This offered us peace of mind. We don’t know yet know if all of our debt will be forgiven, but we do know we did everything as perfectly as we could, thanks to his help.

We are looking at silver linings from COVID. We have definite core values for our clinic, and COVID enforced the importance of those. We will consider continuing to do patient histories by phone, as this seems to work great for the most part. We also will continue having our opticians come to the exam room. We have developed a concierge-like approach to eyewear selection that our patients greatly value.

We appreciate the IDOC consultants at our fingertips, the quarterly updates, the rebates and other resources. All of these tools will help us continue to be successful.

Michel Maiers, OD
Youngwood Eye Care
Youngwood, Penn.

We opened with reduced capacity on May 8. We saw one patient per hour for the first week, but we found our day was so boring, and we had so much down time, that we decided we could safely handle two per hour and one check-in between if needed. June was our busiest month to date, and then July topped June.

We were up 29 percent in June 2020 compared to June 2019. July, which historically is our busiest month, was up 10 percent this year compared to last. August also trended busier ahead of last year. I typically leave Thursdays as my bookkeeping days, but we have been seeing patients those days to accommodate the high demand for appointments.

IDOC has simply been amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to stay sane without it. IDOC put together a COVID resource center on its web site that anyone can access, not just IDOC members, on where to get PPE and recommended safety protocol. The biggest help was the guidance IDOC gave on how to continue to pay my staff during this pandemic and how to handle staff management challenges.

Nathan Hayes guided me through the PPP loan process and recommended how to stay afloat while not putting my employees on unemployment. IDOC’s Maddie Langston helped with my Facebook page. She helped me make my patients feel comfortable about coming to the office and showed me how to explain to them that their safety was my top priority.

IDOC’s Amy Alvarez was always an e-mail away to help me with my employee concerns. She helped me develop a protocol in case an employee contracted COVID. I had an employee who refused to stay home the second week of March, when she was not feeling well, and Amy helped me manage the situation.

I also talked with IDOC’s Pat Basile and we integrated a frame management system, adding new frames and removing frame lines that were stale. Pat helped me sign up and become a member of IDOC Insider and trained me on what all the numbers mean, which has been a huge asset since starting to see patients again. My staff and I love seeing where our practice ranks compared to all the other IDOC Insider members.

I closed for eight weeks, and during that time continued to sell contact lenses and blue light blocking eyewear. Those sales, along with insurance reimbursements, kept us going. IDOC also sent us our first quarter rebate checks in April, which helped significantly. I am still down 11 percent from last year at this point, but I think we will be even with 2019 by the end of the year.

My office is already booking into mid-October, so I am hopeful that we will make up that lost revenue. I am positive that 2021 will be up as well. Patients are happy to come in for examinations, and the mask requirement isn’t deterring patients from trying on and purchasing eyewear.

 

Bryan Heitmeyer, OD is a partner with Clearvue Vision Center, PLLC in Kent, Wash. To contact him: drheitmeyer@clearvuevision.com

Georgiann Jensen, OD, is the owner of Blaine Eye Clinic in Blaine, Minn. To contact her: drjensen@blaineeyeclinic.com

Michel Maiers, OD, is the owner of  Youngwood Eye Care in Youngwood, Penn. To contact her: mlpawlosky@aol.com

 

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