For Angela Tsai, OD, FVAO, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, 2020 was shaping up to be awesome. On Dec. 26, 2019, she opened her new location, a few miles from the location she joined in 2006 and became co-owner of in 2009. The old location had just 3,500 square feet of usable space, a squeeze for a three-OD practice with a staff ranging from 22 to 30. Her new spot has 8,000 square feet, including an entire hallway for vision therapy.
In the first weeks that she was open, her revenues were $80,000 ahead of the same period the year before. Then came COVID-19. The practice remained open to urgent care cases, with specific care protocols in place. Dr. Tsai has made more than 500 disposable paper masks from blue shop towels for her patients to wear, and she posted a YouTube video so her colleagues could do the same.
Patients are triaged at the front door to ensure that they are there for a true urgent case or ocular emergency. A staff member takes the patient’s temperature, and only one patient is allowed in at a time. Patients don the mask before entering the space.
KEEPING EMPLOYEES ENGAGED AND HEALTHY
As public health and government guidance shifts and she can open to more staff, she hopes to bring back the staff she had to furlough. She kept on about half of her staff, and each day that they’re open for six hours, the practice buys the staff members lunch. “We created a 12 Days of COVID gift idea for them,” she says, and each day, there’s a small gift: hand sanitizers, vitamins, protective eyewear, Tylenol, toilet paper and, one day, eggs, which were received with surprisingly high enthusiasm. She also provides staff with meal kits to ease one of the burdens when they get back to their families.
When the patient schedule picks up, Dr. Tsai will continue implementing Team A and Team B protocols. “If someone on the staff tests positive, then that entire team will be quarantined, but the other team can allow us to continue to see patients. For the same reason, we alternate doctors.”
Being part of the Vision Source® network has been a benefit to her. She appreciates that the Member Support Center quickly announced relief to member practices in royalty patients. “Vision Source is being proactive in getting us information on telemedicine and government programs like Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Paycheck Protection Program assistance,” she says. “The more resources we can have in a time like this, the better. Vision Source has always supported the business of independent optometry. It’s here to help us grow our businesses.”
PROUD OF THE SPACE
Dr. Tsai can’t wait for patients to see space she has created for them. It’s green, with 70 percent of the roof covered by solar panels. Electric car charging stations are being added, and the optical dispensary features earth-friendly frame lines, such as MODO and Schwood. The ONE by ONE recycling collection boxes for recycling contact lenses and blister packs are being used.
While COVID-19 wasn’t on the horizon when she was coming up with plans for the office, some of her planning now seems prescient. She created a wide quartz countertop that puts physical space between staff and patients—and quartz is more antibacterial than stone like granite.
In addition, she decide to do away with the front desk concept, so there’s no congregating at one spot. The staff members who will be checking in patients will be wearing a faceshield and checking in patients with an iPad. “I hated the fish bowl of a check-in counter. You don’t feel that human connection,” she says.
Her father-in-law, an architect, “helped us come up with a design where every square inch is used,” she says. With eight full exam lanes—compared to the six she had before—and three special testing lanes as well as a contact lens room, she has the space to spread out doctors, staff and patients. The entire vision therapy area is off its own hallway. The administrative area also has its own hallway—so patients cannot hear the conversations as appointments are being scheduled or any conversations of the bookkeeping staff or the doctor’s office.