There’s more to reopening than acquiring personal protective equipment and sanitizing the space. Organizations issuing health and safety guidelines are addressing these aspects effectively. But maintaining a healthy practice environment now and into the future is getting less attention, says Essilor Senior Vice President Millicent Knight, OD, FAAO, FAARM, FNAP.
“I pictured myself back as an OD owner in practice and also as my current role as a supporter of owners. How could we be stronger advocates, becoming a true partner in filling in knowledge gaps on how to keep the doors open with a lower patient volume, human resources challenges and more? Doctors may not have time to research everything they might need to know,” she says.
So she and her team created a Healthy Practice Guidelines document. Without having to manage a practice and care for patients, her team “could do the research and look at ways in which doctors can face the disruption in the industry and take a fresh look at the practice.” The document details five tips: choose partners and leverage the power of community, stay financially sound through the crisis, prepare your office and staff for patient return, communicate with patients and plan for the future.
Dr. Knight stresses the need to think about the practice and patient experience holistically, creating an environment to which patients are happy to return. Healthy Practice Guidelines encourages ODs to take advantage of vendor resources, such as the robust staff training offered on ECPUniversity. “This covers everything from onboarding new staff to the sophisticated customer service needs of managing a front desk,” says Dr. Knight.
Optometrists have an opportunity here to differentiate their level of care. “Take advantage of the changed cadence to educate patients about issues like protection against harmful blue light for children who just completed screen-based home schooling and are increasingly gaming on their devices. It’s a chance to talk about protective lens treatments and lifestyle habits like playing outside or turning off the devices before bed.” Patients will associate the value of that education with the value of your products and practice, she says.
Many ODs have been busy taking care of many details of business operations and family members. “But make sure you’re taking care of yourselves, managing your stress, taking immune-boosting vitamins, eating and resting well and exercising,” Dr. Knight says. “Don’t forget that the doctor credited with first raising the alarm about COVID-19 was an ophthalmologist seeing an asymptomatic patient for a glaucoma follow-up,” she says. Dr. Knight challenges ODs to remember that they cannot serve their patients and families if they don’t take care of themselves.
Before Dr. Knight moved into industry, she had a private practice in Evanston, Illinois. Being a member of the Vision Source® network then was important to her. “We’re stronger together. If you’re out there by yourself, working through the ambiguity of advice from so many sources, it can be time-consuming and confusing,” she says. “Your time may be better spent generating revenue for the business. I appreciate that Vision Source is full of early adopters and could put me in direct contact with individuals who could provide support to advance my practice.”
So it’s not entirely surprising that she went back to her former colleagues to ask what it was that doctors needed while drafting her Healthy Practice Guidelines. Dr. Knight was also able to pull in resources from around the globe. “A lot of the information I gathered was based on experiences in ophthalmology practices in China, for example,” she says. It has been helpful to approach this pandemic with a global perspective, she says, as the more ODs know, the more prepared they will be to operate safely when patients return in larger numbers. It’s also valuable information to process should there be a resurgence of COVID-19 or a more localized emergency. “This time, most everyone was caught without an emergency response and some without access to a resource team that should include a personal banker, attorney, practice consultant and human resources specialists. But now we have the opportunity to put structures, systems and emergency savings in place.”