Practice Management

3 Pandemic-Inspired Changes that Continue to Bring Patients Back

Plexiglass barriers in front of the reception desk in Dr. Horie’s office. These kinds of barriers have been added throughout the office wherever the staff and patients come into contact.

By Tia Horie, OD

August 18, 2021

Changes, big and small, can make a significant impact on the patient experience and your practice’s ability to win back patients for return visits.

Here are a few changes we made to our office that continue to reassure patients that our office is a safe space to come to during a pandemic that doesn’t seem to want to end.

Plexiglass Barriers at Front Reception Desk & All Patient/Staff Interaction Points
These barriers act as splash-guards to reduce the spread of droplet-born pathogens like those that transmit COVID-19. Even though these barriers do not offer total protection against airborne pathogen spread, they act as a physical reminder to patients and staff that extra cleanliness protocols need to be followed.

We installed the barriers ourselves over a couple hours. This included the time to purchase materials (from Home Depot), build and set up the barriers. The total cost for the office was about $500.

Starting in March 2020 we had to stop seeing patients for regular eye exam appointments for 2.5 months. We went to an appointment-only schedule for pick-ups, adjustments and purchases. We decreased staff hours by 85 percent. We could only see patients for emergency appointments. I would estimate that we lost about 46 percent income for the March-May. We lost about 50 business days. Many patients were concerned about cleanliness. They were unsure what to expect coming back after the COVID shutdown. The added barriers helped to calm fears and show that we were aware of the situation and being proactive.

I do not directly think just the plexiglass enhanced profitability, but many new protocols helped to bring patients back. We have air purifiers throughout the office, mandatory masks for employees and patients, UV frame and equipment cleaners, limited office capacity, hand sanitizer everywhere, extensive and thorough cleaning between patients and gloved patient care whenever physical contact is necessary. I think the combination brought patients back in and allowed us to practice to our normal levels. Without these changes, I am sure that revenue would have been lower.

If you feel comfortable, use do-it-yourself videos to make improvements on your own. Businesses specializing in plexiglass barriers or “professional” installation were three times the cost of doing it ourselves. I think 80 percent of my colleagues did their safety work themselves. The other 20 percent work for a hospital or corporation that did the safety installations for them. Don’t be afraid to make your own rules. We are private business owners. We are responsible for the safety of our patrons (in our case, patients). It is our responsibility to make sure our staff feels safe and everyone in the practice is on the same page.

Air Purifiers
Cleaner air in an enclosed space is always a good thing, but never more so than at a time when there is still heightened awareness of germs. Optometry exam rooms are dark and traditionally windowless, so we needed a way to increase airflow.

We added three GermGuardian air purifiers at an initial investment of $390. We replace the filters monthly at about $30 a month. The air purifiers required about an hour to purchase and install.

One of three GermGuardian air purifers Dr. Horie added to her office. She said this added touch reassures patients that the office has good airflow despite being an enclosed space.

Shop around for the best deals when purchasing equipment like an air purifier or other pandemic-related safety supplies, but make sure to buy from a trusted supplier. We had long shipping delays or the wrong product sent when we used suppliers that we didn’t know well.

Implemented Electronic Medical Records Program
We were a paper office all the way up until last year. The pandemic, however, showed us the added value in cleanliness of having a paper-free office. We wanted to reduce paper touched between multiple hands, and as an added benefit, limit the amount of waste we created as a result of operating our practice.

It is a huge undertaking to transfer all your files. The process of transitioning from paper to electronic records required an additional five hours a week, on top of patient hours. We have been doing at least 100-200 chart transfers a week. And we are only about halfway done. The cost for us in money paid to the EHR vendor is $225 a month. However, I have not yet calculated the offset in costs from decreased use of paper and chart materials. We are already making progress toward our goal of decreasing paper and touch points.

Not all electronic medical record systems are the same, or cost the same. We tried one that charged per doctor and added up to $1,000+ a month. Our current EHR system is not optometry-specific, but is a lot less expensive and does not charge per-doctor fees.

Patients Notice & Appreciate the Effort
We took extra time during the COVID lockdown to reevaluate our office cleanliness protocols and how we want to service our patients. We are going to continue with masks and appointments for all office visits for the foreseeable future.

Once the lockdown order for our county was lifted, we began to get calls. During those calls we addressed the new safety protocols we began using. We put a notice about these new protocols on the entrance doors of our office, on our voicemail and on our website. With this added visibility we began to have patients schedule appointments again. We started off with 35 percent of normal capacity for the first month and ramped up to 71 percent for the next four months. By November we were back to normal capacity.

COVID was a game-changer, but I think it has made our practice, and the way we practice, more efficient and safe.

Tia Horie, OD, is the owner of Horie Optometry, a Vision Source Signature Eye Care practice, in Vacaville, Calif. To contact her:


To Top
Subscribe Today for Free...
And join more than 35,000 optometric colleagues who have made Review of Optometric Business their daily business advisor.