The Salisbury Eyecare and Eyewear YouTube channel is refreshed weekly with new content, and practice owner Melanie Denton Dombrowski, OD, MBA, FAAO, films about 10 videos in a session to release every Wednesday at 4 p.m. EST. But when the state optometry board strongly recommended that offices cease routine care, she closed her Salisbury, North Carolina, office to all but emergency and urgent visits on March 23. It was apparent that she would need a shift in the messaging she had planned.
She filmed a three-part series of COVID-19 videos that she released three weeks in a row starting on April 1 covering its impact on the eyes, changes that were being made in the office and telemedicine visits. The goal was keeping her patients educated and engaged during this difficult time.
Dr. Denton Dombrowski jumped onboard with telemedicine right away, feeling confident in her own personal research as well as taking advantage of American Optometric Association resources. Her third video focused on this topic to ease the concerns of her patients. “Our office is so warm and welcoming—like you are at home—so we have had to make it very clinical, and I wanted to give them warning,” she explains. “When we first shut down, patients were not OK with being seen on video or talking to me on the phone.” The steps taken were an effort to make them feel comfortable and confident in this new type of care.
Her staff helped prepare binders on each insurance company to understand all of the details and rules for each plan. For example, in most cases, if she sees someone for a virtual visit but needs to see them in the office within the next seven days, the visit is only billed once. She says her team members have been excellent at phone triage so they can determine if a patient can be seen for a telemedicine visit. Dr. Denton Dombrowski uses these virtual services as a high-level diagnostic screening tool, but some urgent cases such as flashes or floaters as a chief complaint warrant an immediate office visit. A patient with red eye symptoms can be more complex to understand over telemedicine, as well. “You can’t see the cornea or anterior chamber in a virtual visit, so if I’m thinking about a steroid, I need to make that judgment call if they need to come in.”
Dr. Denton Dombrowski also networked with other local physicians who provide routine care so that they could network and share their experiences plunging into telemedicine for the first time. She facilitated a conference call between local OB/GYNs, dentists and chiropractors to share best practices.
A CHANGE IN ATMOSPHERE AND ATTIRE
Some extreme changes were necessary in the practice, which offers a very hands-on experience. All of the extras—pens, magazines and even the coffee bar—were removed. And Dr. Denton Dombrowski’s typical business attire in a dress and heels was one of the first changes to be made. Upon closing for routine care, she immediately wore scrubs and her white coat in the office and plans to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. “It was a drastic change to help patients understand the severity of the situation,” she says. Her hair will be back at all times, and she and her staff will wear masks.
CREATING ACCESS TO PRODUCTS
Many patients come to the practice for dry eye care services, and Dr. Denton Dombrowski offers a number of products available for sale. But she wasn’t set up for shipping right away, so she implemented an Amazon affiliate virtual store that would allow patients to support the practice with their purchases until she was set up to fulfill these orders directly. Patients could easily order contact lenses while in the office through Dr. Contact Lens, the ordering service co-founded by a friend of hers, Brianna Rhue, OD, FAAO.
Dr. Denton Dombrowski was also exploring e-commerce options for eyewear. “We don’t have a sense yet of how it will affect people economically, so in the back of my mind, I’m changing our frame distribution a bit and looking at our pricing and a price point that patients are comfortable with.”
All but one of the team of five was furloughed, but when Dr. Denton Dombrowski received her Paycheck Protection Program loan, she was able to bring back her entire team.
Together, she worked with her office manager on plans for a marketing blitz upon reopening, updating office processes and compiling a waiting list for all of the calls they received for routine visit requests. The trunk show that was planned for May was held virtually, with an in-office event tentatively scheduled for June.
In her first week back in the office, she launched an e-commerce site and has held live sales on Facebook, which she plans to continue. “I am very optimistic,” Dr. Denton
Dombrowski says. “I think that we are going to come out of this better than before. Personally, I am looking at this as a time to do the things I never get a chance to do while trying to keep a positive outlook and perspective.”
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