March 26, 2020 — Coronavirus stats continue to soar. As of today, over 158 million Americans have been told to stay home. Increasing numbers of health care providers, including optometrists, are temporarily closing or limiting patient visits.
While the situation remains fluid, it’s become increasingly important for optometric business owners to have a disaster plan in place.
Here are several suggestions to help you create or add to an existing plan. While it applies right now to the coronavirus pandemic, your plan should be designed to address an action plan for all crises.
- Hours: Determine whether providing shortened hours to care for urgent patient needs (and help keep them out of the already over-stressed ERs) or closing down altogether makes more sense for your practice.
- Employee Options: Determine what’s best for your business and its people—maintaining staff with pay, temporary layoffs, reduced hours, or actual terminations. Consider compensation, especially for those employees you’d like to have back when your practice ramps up—can they collect unemployment in the interim? Will you continue paying them?
- Office Coverage: For smaller practices, reduce staffing so there is only one other person in the office at any time. Consider work-from-home functions—like answering phones, managing social media, and, especially now, accounts receivable. For anyone in the office, underscore the importance of social distancing and sanitizing protocols.
- Protection Planning: Implement no-exception precautions, including eye protection, for staff and O.D.s. Implement outside-of-the-box thinking to resource PPE (personal protective equipment). Some offices have resorted to ordering homemade masks from websites like Etsy.
- Patients: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends “[postponing] routine...eyecare visits” and those for seniors (over age 65). Reschedule when appropriate, and, when confirming appointments, notify patients they can be accompanied by only one person.
- Scheduling: As an additional precaution, separate appointments so that only one person is in the waiting room at a time. Reschedule routine appointments for late April at the earliest.
- Product: If you are feeling the crunch, contact your suppliers and discuss options—such as payment plans, staggered deliveries, or delaying/rescheduling orders for nonessential products.
- Cleaning: If you remain open, detail every step of between-patient sanitizing procedures for staff—and keep a list of additional cleaning duties for downtime.
- Out-of-Office Communications: Consider remote (phone or video) communications with patients, including telehealth platforms such as Doxy.me. Also, implement call forwarding or something like Google Voice.
- Creativity: To keep business going, consider offering limited-time offers or gift certificates via email to patients and customers.
- Contacts: Post contact info for your local and state health agencies.
- Resources: To stay on top of the fast-changing situation, check in regularly with coronavirus resources and information offered by the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the CDC.