Most doctors would agree that practicing optometry won’t be the same as we move forward from this pandemic. Just as the public is adapting to a new way of life amid the COVID-19 crisis, optometry practices have restructured their businesses to accommodate this new normal.
Of course, making sure your staff and patients stay safe is essential. Here are some tips to ensure your practice remains profitable while protecting everyone in it:
- Communicate with your staff. Transitioning back to work will be an adjustment, especially if most of your staff were furloughed. You may not be able to accommodate as much staff as usual if your office is seeing a reduced volume of patients. Meet with your team (virtually, if necessary!) to formulate a reopening plan that everyone is on board with.
- Use technology to your advantage. Consider automated recall systems to get patients back into your office, including missed or overdue exams. Implement a contact lens refill system on your practice website. This system reduces staff workload while increasing practice revenue and patient satisfaction.
- Review your expenses. Go over your accounting records to see where you can save money. Look for billing errors, contact suppliers to see if you can defer payments, or shop around to find better prices than your current suppliers.
- Address outstanding insurance claims. Now that you may have a bit more time on your hands, take the opportunity to catch up on your billing.
- Reduce appointment no-shows. With lower patient volumes, it’s crucial to ensure patients show up for their appointment. Use automated appointment reminders that allow patients to receive text, email, or voice reminders. Send multiple reminders, including a few days prior and the day before the appointment. Consider implementing a no-show policy that may include a fee. Inform patients about this policy and display this information clearly in your practice to avoid disputes. Try not to overbook appointments and let patients wait too long. If patients feel their time is not being respected, they may not respect your time.
Health and Safety Considerations
- Adjust your office flow to allow for social distancing. This includes allowing only 1-2 patients inside at a time, asking family and friends to wait outside, spacing out chairs in the waiting area, designating areas for patients to stand while waiting. Offer drive-up dispensing and repairs to limit patients in the optical. Make sure you have clear signage indicating these guidelines.
- Spread out appointment times. Allow ample time for current patients to leave before the next patient enters, as well as giving your staff enough time to sanitize the office for each patient. To compensate for reduced patient volumes, you can extend your office hours.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE). Provide all staff with face masks. Require both staff and patients to use a face mask while in the office. Keep gloves, eye protection, and face shields on hand. Use proper PPE when performing procedures such as dilated fundus exams, foreign body removals, and anything else that requires direct contact. Consider wearing scrubs, or make sure to wash your work clothes after each wear.
- Establish a clear cleaning protocol. Make it easy for your staff to adhere to a cleaning schedule. For example, hang a dry erase board in the office and ask the staff to notate each time they wipe down handles, countertops, etc.
- Remove shared items. This includes clipboards, pens, magazines, brochures, and other common items in the waiting area. Have patients use their own pen to fill out paperwork or email them ahead of time.
- Take temperatures with infrared thermometers and provide a screening questionnaire. This applies to both patients and staff. Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not be allowed to enter the office.
- Implement protective barriers, including at the reception desk and on slit lamps.
Most of us want to get back to some sense of normalcy. As we move forward, keep your patients informed, show them you care about their well-being, and be compassionate towards your staff and patients.