By Alan A. Arabi, O.D., Corona, Calif.
The COVID-19 crisis has put a lot of strain on our practices, and the negative impacts are difficult to ignore, especially when we are constantly reminded of our new daily normal. I have gone through a few business struggles on my journey, but I learned to control what I can and to gain knowledge from each experience. With that mindset, I have been able to use this valuable time to better position my practice for future success and appreciate what is in front of us.
Here are three items that have improved our practice since the COVID crisis:
Before COVID-19, I made little-to-no effort in learning how telemedicine would benefit the practice. Truthfully, I neither saw the value nor wanted to put the time and effort to see whether it was worth using it.
However, when shelter in place was ordered in my state, I was forced to consider this technology to continue serving the needs of patients. My practice signed up with a technology provider and went through the onboarding process. The result: A user-friendly platform for me and patients.
I now average about four-to-five telemedicine visits per week, and patients appreciate the service. My practice plans to continue with telemedicine for red eyes, styes, contact lens follow-ups, prescription re-fills and dry eye disease follow-up appointments.
As many optometrists reduce the number of exams per day to maintain social distancing, offering “virtual visits” can help to reach the pre-COVID patient volume, while reducing the chair cost for visits, such as contact lens follow-ups.
There are obvious limitations to telemedicine, but we understand the world is changing. Many healthcare professions, especially primary care, have been performing telemedicine with their patients, and our patients will start expecting the same service option from us.
Online Contact Lens Ordering
Online contact lens ordering offers patients a simple convenient way to order contact lenses straight from the phone or website. Our practice implemented an online ordering platform a few years ago but it never took off, so we discontinued the service after one year.
Months prior to COVID-19, we gave it another shot with one of our contact lens partners. Set-up was simple, and the staff found the platform easy to grasp. Contact lenses were directly shipped to the patients' home or workplace.
Also, the service provides a reminder to patients two weeks prior to when their supply will be depleted, complete with a link to order directly from their phone. During our closure, patients who were due to order more contact lenses were being notified automatically and ordering without any staff member assistance. For those not using the service, staff members started to text and email patients links to order contact lenses straight from their phone or the website. Patients had a positive response, and our contact lens revenue increased each week.
Additionally, I discovered we were only utilizing the system at 50% because some staff members had been placing orders directly through our distributor, rather than through the online ordering platform. As a result, only half of our patients were getting automatic text reminders to reorder. By increasing our utilization percentage, we should be able to make a significant increase in our contact lens revenue. We are also looking into a monthly subscription as another option for our patients.
I am a big believer that one's team is the greatest asset. From the time I took over my first practice, I have worked hard to create and maintain a positive and friendly work culture. I have made it a goal of mine to be transparent and honest with my team, especially when it comes to the business side of the practice.
Leading up to the stay-at-home order in our state, our weekly meetings addressed the potential impact it could have on the practice and employment. So, when it came to furloughing about 70% of my staff, they were prepared. During the closure, I continued to communicate with my staff through an online videoconference platform, as well as through email and text.
Since reopening, all our staff members have returned, appreciative and thankful to get back to work. It is a testament of the trust and confidence the staff has in me and the “happy” work culture we have established. A toxic or negative culture is already a problem in a normal landscape, but it can certainly be highlighted in a crisis like this. Ultimately, it reminds us of the importance of establishing a positive work culture and continuing to invest in our greatest asset, the team.