Melissa McCulley, OD, was on a family vacation in the middle of March when a series of messages started streaming in from her staff. Apologizing for the interruption, her team insisted that the issues arising with COVID-19 needed her attention back at McCulley Optix Gallery, her practice that she opened in 2006 in her hometown of Fargo, North Dakota.
Since Dr. McCulley wasn’t seeing patients that week, the practice immediately closed to the public. Signage on the door and website stated that while the doors are locked, staff is still available. Once Dr. McCulley returned home, she got started with telehealth services as she began her 14-day quarantine after traveling. Thankfully, she and everyone in her family have been fine.
She also decided to keep her four full-time staff members on payroll during this challenging time. “I feel a responsibility to my employees during this difficult time that they wouldn’t have to be furloughed or laid off,” Dr. McCulley says. So over the course of the month before she received her Paycheck Protection Program loan, she tapped into the funds she had put away for the business for either new technology or a new office space. “Now that is allocated to the staff, because without them, none of these future endeavors would happen. They are a great team, and they’ve been my number one priority.”
MAKING THE MOST OF DOORS-CLOSED TIME
Dr. McCulley offered telemedicine services from home in between homeschooling her two children, rolling out services first to friends and family who are patients and emergency patients. She sees great potential in these services even after her office has reopened. “In the past, I may have consulted over the phone or text message but we weren’t able to bill for it,” she says.
Her office manager also worked remotely as much as possible, while the rest of the staff took turns taking care of responsibilities in the office such as answering phones and taking inventory as well as reorganizing and deep cleaning—“those projects you never quite get to,” such as pulling out the fridge to clean behind it and going through all of the contact lens trials to look for the ones expiring at the end of 2020. Weekly meetings were still held, but on Zoom instead of in person.
VIDEO CONNECTIONS WITH PATIENTS AND STAFF
As Dr. McCulley shifted gears to plan and prepare for reopening, she also wanted to update her office procedure manuals by converting many of her how-to guides into a video format. “It will keep us on our toes and remind us of our processes as we make these videos,” Dr. McCulley says. “As we get back to full swing seeing the backlog of patients, we hope this will streamline our onboarding and training process as we deal with future patient care demand.” She also launched the Fab Glasses Happy Hour, a video series that will be posted weekly to her practice Facebook page, where members of the team will talk about eyeglasses, vision, eye health and more.
Dr. McCulley launched a virtual optical experience, another way to help patients while she was closed, as well as when she opened to help minimize the number of people in the office and the amount of time patients had to spend there. Patients complete a questionnaire and upload a photo of themselves and schedule a virtual video call. The optical staff preselects options based on patient feedback and preferences, and Dr. McCulley is confident in their choices as they are always very involved in frame selection. The final choices are mailed to the patient to try on after being sanitized. All orders include a PD measuring stick, and patient and staff member would correspond over another call once the frames arrived. “We can see how they fit and what they like about them, maybe a certain style but with another frame’s color. We can finetune what they like.” She plans to continue this service, seeing the value for those who need to get back to work or their children.
McCulley Optix Gallery opened its doors again in mid-May to see patients by appointment only after nearly two months of being closed. While masks are not required in her state, she’s implementing an office policy for staff and patients to wear masks. They continue to focus on respecting social distancing and thorough cleaning, especially in front of patients. “They can see that the surfaces are wiped down, and it’s not just an assumption to wonder about it,” Dr. McCulley says. “The what-ifs and new sense of how normal will be keep changing every day. Everyone is navigating this, and we’ll figure it out.”
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