As we all venture into a “new normal” (if I hear one more person use that term...), we have to clearly define the nature of what it is that we need to accomplish. Our heads are spinning with all of the changes. So, I think that it is important to step back, take a deep breath, and, being as clear-eyed as possible, distill down to a few elements what we face.
I recently underwent a couple of surgeries that kept me out of my office for weeks. So, I had some time in May to think about some of this stuff. I think that I have boiled everything down to three principles that we should understand if we are to reopen our practices successfully.
The Same Needs The eyecare needs of our patients really have not changed. Yes, COVID-19 can present primarily as a conjunctivitis, but that is rare. The essence of what we did for our patients before the pandemic and what they need now has not changed. The services that we provide as well as the need for and value of those services have not changed—with one exception. We now have the opportunity to take some burden off of our emergency departments by seeing all eye problems. That requires communication with our patients to think of us first before running off to an emergency department.
Changing Methods While the services and materials that patients need have not changed, the method by which we deliver them has to change. We need to embrace telehealth options for providing routine contact lens follow-up care and urgent care. Initially, that meant using whatever system we could (e.g., FaceTime, etc.), but we all need to plan for the day when the waivers on telehealth expire; we need HIPAA-compliant portals.
Cleaning and Disinfection It is a reality that we need to stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infections by putting systems in place that reduce the risk of infectious transmission. Therefore, we need to create an environment that addresses concerns about patient safety and infection control. However, just like the Transportation Security Administration, we need to create the appearance of a safe environment if we want patients to fly with us again after a calamity.
Start by putting up signs that tell patients what disinfection procedures you are using before and after their visits. Also, publicly post the recently approved GP diagnostic trial lens cleaning procedures. Additionally, office staff and practitioners should perform cleaning tasks in front of patients to show them what you are actually doing. You want to reassure your patients that it is safe to come to your office. Practitioners can also send emails and have a “COVID Page” on their website that details the steps being taken to ensure that patients will be safe.
Look at office and staff flow to see how you can best see the maximum number of patients and still maintain safety. We ordered a new polymer coating that can be sprayed on all non-porous surfaces and that is bactericidal and virucidal for 90 days. This allows my office to speed things up between patients.
Another way to shave some time off of visits is to get paperwork and payment processing done online ahead of time. For example, practitioners can use HIPAA-compliant patient portals to get consents and demographic updates so that patients can spend less time in the office.
I do still think that how much time you spend with patients is critical. Therefore, you should find ways for patients to spend less time in the office but more time with you. CLS