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BUSINESS: Strategies

Top Pandemic Lessons Learned

What the crisis has taught us about telehealth, Zoom, PPP and more

Few good things have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without minimizing the human life tragedy, the pandemic’s effect on businesses, in particular small businesses, was, and likely will continue to be for many years, devastating.

Not necessarily a “half full” sort of consultant, we have definitely learned many positive business lessons during this crisis. With that, I give you the top lessons learned from this pandemic.

TELEHEALTH: A BIGGER LESSON

Much has been written about telehealth, and I agree it has a place in optometry. But in its current form, telehealth is not the salvation of the business side of our practices. The scope of the existing technology isn’t broad enough to serve a diverse enough swath of patients. It can’t yet have a significant impact on our practice’s bottom line.

But the lesson of COVID telehealth is much bigger: We were very slow to adapt; telehealth should have been an integral part of practices before COVID hit us. Early adaptation of technology and making changes to our core way of practicing has always been a challenge for optometry. That needs to change.

The same goes for omnichannel strategies. We should have had patients buying their contact lenses online from us years ago. The mad dash to get it done in a few days was unnecessary. The lesson . . . as telehealth and other online technologies evolve to become more applicable to more patients, stay in front of them.

‘OVERCOMMUNICATE’

Next, having personally conducted more than 70 hours of Zoom meetings and CE webinars in less than 70 days, I can assure you I am “Zoomed out.” But our consulting team learned something about the importance of more frequent and transparent communication with our own staff, our clients and their patients. “Overcommunicate” was a term I never heard before the pandemic and we’re now huge proponents of it. It doesn’t have to be via video conferencing, but it should happen.

PPP FORGIVENESS PANIC

PPP forgiveness panic (“I only have eight weeks to bring back my staff!”) taught us some valuable lessons about really understanding the cost structures and line item analysis of our practices. The doctors who worked with us carefully to ensure they could appropriately titrate staff back to their practices with commensurate changes in patient volume, will, in the long term, be better off than those who didn’t do the deeper analysis. “Managing by statistics,” “doing it by the numbers” or anything else you call it, took on new meaning during the pandemic. Its importance should continue to stay with us.

DOING MORE WITH LESS

Doing more with less was another important lesson. Many of the “nice to haves” in practices have been successfully eliminated (for example, extra seating, excess inventory, coffee stations, music, scent machines, etc.) and may or may not be added back. While in some cases they are absolutely essential branding elements for practices, in other cases they were something practices brought in once and just continued to pay for — forever.

GENUINE PARTNERSHIPS

Finally, reasonable negotiating and working as a genuine committed partner with vendors and others for mutual survival became important. “Reasonable” meaning asking your landlord to reduce and/or defer your rent is different than insisting you don’t pay rent at all. The same goes for frame companies and labs. It’s a blinding flash of the obvious to state — nearly all in our industry were touched in an economically unfavorable way. So, asking others to take 100% of the brunt of losses you incurred, if you hope to have an ongoing relationship with them, is bad negotiating and bad for long-term business relationships. OM