Insights From Our Editors

More Lessons Learned in the First Days After Reopening

By Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD,
and Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD

June 3, 2020

The lessons continue on what patients, support staff and doctors need in the new environment we find ourselves in. Here are additional points we have discovered in recent days about how best to operate our practices during the pandemic.

In a previous article we presented four lessons learned during the pandemic as practices were initially opening back up. These lessons were:
1) Have a plan
2) Take it slow
3) Patients are ready to return
4) Patients need help

Now that practices have been opened for a while, with many practices back to full speed, there are new lessons that have been learned. We categorize these new lessons into the following five areas.

1) Patients and staff want to feel safe
Surveys of both patients and staff convey their need to feel safe when returning to the office. This is priority number one. Both patients and staff need to be assured we are focused on their safety. Creating and following safety protocols helps achieve this goal. This is also reinforced by cleaning and disinfecting in front of patients.

The creation of “safe zones” throughout the office along the patient path as they move through the office also shows both staff and patients we are following safety protocols.

There’s also been a change in the way patients are involved in frame selection. Prior to the pandemic, patients could browse the frame board and randomly choose and replace frames. Now opticians help the patient choose frames and those frames are not returned to the frame board until they’ve been disinfected. This is just another way of showing both staff and patients that we are following safety protocols.

2) Patient flow strategies worked
In general, the patient flow strategies were incremental as offices reopened. Most practices opened at 50 percent of pre-pandemic normal patient flow. Within 1-2 weeks that flow moved to 75 percent of pre-pandemic normal patient flow. Within another 1-2 weeks, that flow moved to 100 percent.

3) Data analytics is essential to keeping the practice revenue positive
The number one financial goal throughout office closings and office re-openings has been to keep the practice cash flow positive. The pandemic caused most practices to pay more attention to cash flow. This is healthy because the number one problem in most small- to medium-size businesses in the U.S. is cash flow.

More practices have installed business dashboard systems, such as EDGEPro, to do a deeper dive on practice profitability. Practices utilizing a business dashboard system are able to more quickly identify and fine-tune the best frames to keep on their frame board and the ones that need to be removed. Practices are able to identify individual staff member productivity with a business dashboard system. Practices are also able to compare their own performance to like-size practices.

Since knowledge is power, in the long run this will result in better managed practices.

4) Online changes are now part of the new normal
During the pandemic, social media took the lead in communicating with staff and patients. This continued through practices reopening and it is continued now that practices are open. Looking forward, social media will continue to occupy an important place in practice marketing.

For some doctors, there has been an increased level of interactivity with patients outside the office, especially in the digital world. Patients are expecting this to continue now that practices are open.

Telemedicine prior to the pandemic was a side discussion with a few proponents. Now telemedicine is part of the services that most practices offer. Currently there is an ongoing discussion within practices of how to continue telemedicine services now that practices are opened. The entire medical world has embraced telemedicine, so that suggests that telemedicine within optometry will continue to grow and develop as we move forward.

The pandemic forced increased online sales and e-commerce. The expectation is that this will continue and grow over time. The key discussion occurring within practices currently is how to most effectively manage this portion of the practice.

The use of video-conferencing exploded during the pandemic. Doctors utilize technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to network with each other to problem-solve common issues. This is continuing as practices have reopened.

Virtual CE became the norm during the pandemic. Virtual CE was available prior to the pandemic, but was not utilized as much as in-person CE. For the near future, virtual CE will continue to be dominant.

5) There is a change to being patient-centric versus doctor-centric
Before the pandemic most practices were doctor-centric. Practices were open when convenient for the doctors. Patient schedules were designed to keep the doctor busy versus what is best for patients.

Practices with their finger on the pulse of patient attitudes have noticed a change. Patients want practices to deliver services and goods when and how they want them versus when it is convenient to the practice. There is now an expectation of convenience in all purchasing experiences. During the pandemic, practices made a concerted effort to make interactions with the practice easy and convenient. Eyewear and contact lenses were shipped directly to the patient, contact lens prescriptions were extended when patients could not make it into the office, and telemedicine enables patients to get care without leaving their homes.

A core lesson in the book “The Fifth Discipline” is that your practice is a learning organism. Your practice learns good habits and your practice learns bad habits. As we are reopening practices across the country and re-imagining how to improve our practices, take this time to make sure that your practice is implementing the lessons learned. John Martin, President of Texas State Optical, said it best: “If today’s senior executives don’t understand that it is all about delivering what the consumer wants or demands, tomorrow’s executives will.”

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