Tips on opening an optometry practice’s doors to patients post-pandemic

Telehealth services, contactless waiting rooms, and pre-visit patient intake are all new procedures facilities across the country have had to adopt.

“Don’t touch your face! COVID-19 can use your mouth, nose, or eyes as a transmission route.” This was the advice echoed everywhere in 2020. Consumers took that warning to heart and, for many, that meant cancelling or putting off their eye care appointments.

But now, as COVID-19 restrictions ease around the country, optometrists in particular can expect a surge in demand from patients tending to the healthcare needs they’d put off for a year.

For some optometry practices, this post-pandemic green light means re-opening for the first time since COVID-19 forced them to pause operations. For others, it means balancing newly adopted service options, such as telehealth, with the demands of those making in-office patient visits, while still adhering to all necessary safety protocols.

There’s no question that the pandemic radically changed how optometrists handled their practices. At the same time, it also inadvertently modernized healthcare service models across the entire medical industry. During the pandemic, shortcomings in the traditional patient journey were brought to light and age-old administrative procedures were forced to undergo an overhaul. Telehealth services, contactless waiting rooms, and pre-visit patient intake are all new procedures facilities across the country have had to adopt.

Right now, for many optometrists and independent specialists, it’s a question of determining which “temporary” COVID-19 response technologies to keep and which are ones patients have come to expect, if not demand, as the “new normal” from their practitioners.

With that as a backdrop, here are some tips that may make re-opening go more smoothly for optometry practices and all other independent specialty practices as well.

Create an Action Plan

Draft a plan for re-opening your doors. This means auditing your staffing needs as well as the floorplan of your facility.

  • How will you handle patient intake?
  • Are you retaining your waiting room?
  • Will you go contactless?
    • If so, how can you repurpose your waiting room space?
  • Are you keeping telehealth services and what space will be allocated to that function?
  • How will you handle forms like medical records and insurance?
  • Could you automate or streamline those administrative duties?
  • Do you have a plan to balance walk-in traffic and appointments?
  • What procedures are in place for in-office social distancing, temperature taking, and office sanitizing?

There’s a lot to address, so coming up with a plan, with input from your staff, is an essential first step.

Communicate with Existing and Potential Patients

Once you know how your in-office procedures are going to work, be sure to communicate this plan to your existing patients through email, website, social media, and over the phone when they make an appointment.

For new patients, or those taking advantage of free/discounted first examinations, be sure there is adequate signage at your facility, so they know how to navigate office safety protocols. Make sure your staff is equally familiar with the new office procedures and are equipped to discreetly handle patients experiencing a learning curve about them.

Evaluate the Benefits of Staggering Your Opening

Ramping up office resources for a full reopening after a period of reduced or no activity won’t be a turnkey task. It takes time to introduce new protocols. To make the transition smoother, more than a few practices have staggered their re-openings, either by starting out with limited hours of operation or building in plenty of padding between appointments. Use that time to iron out any kinks or growing pains associated with your new office procedures.

Consider a Practice Overhaul

Providing a stellar patient experience isn’t something always readily available in every optometrist’s wheelhouse, but the reality is the medical services market has changed, significantly, with the pandemic. New technologies are making inroads at many practices, including your competitors. Why? Because they work for both patients and practitioners.

Is your re-opening an opportunity to update the way your practice handles patients?

How One Practice Revamped its Operations

Kopolow & Girisgen, a full service eye care center with 19 locations in the greater Las Vegas area, recently automated their patient intake, registration, and medical history processes, all of which fully integrate with their existing EMR system. The group practice essentially went paperless and contactless. The end result? They cut down patient visit times by an average of 15 minutes each. That’s a huge time savings when one accounts for a patient load of about 10,000 each month

Eye doctors at the practice report their patients feel more comfortable checking in and are relieved paperwork is handled outside of the office. Administrative staff has much more time to tend to patient needs and phone inquiries, without the burden of manually updating and inputting patient records. Even the appointment making practice has been automated, using a branded phone app that allows patients to manage many logistical aspects of the healthcare visit.

Conclusion

As optometrists and other independent specialty practitioners are permitted to resume regular operations nationwide, it’s important that re-opening procedures embrace new advances in technology and elevated expectations of their returning patients. Recent advances in technology, including patient intake, contactless reception, and paperless record keeping are all innovations that will help your practice take its successful next steps.

About the Author
Hari Prasad is the Founder and CEO of Yosi Health, creators of next-generation patient engagement solutions for all size medical practices.