I’ve talked to hundreds of practitioners over the past week, most with the same question: What can I do to ensure that my practice survives COVID-19? And, while it is challenging to write an article now that gives business advice without sounding mercenary, at some point you must take a forward-thinking view to ensure that your practice reopens as strongly as possible when this crisis ends.
The crisis’ impact on our economy and your eyecare practice cannot be overstated. I was in practice during the 1987 recession, 9/11 (with a practice 12 miles outside of New York City), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and the 2007-2008 financial crash. While our current situation is more serious than all of those combined, the common themes are anxiety and panic, followed by a focus on recovery. While I don’t underestimate the scale of the current problem, I’m confident that industry will support practices and that the demand for eye care and eyewear will still be there when we come through this.
While any specialty, including myopia management, is most likely not a priority at the moment, I encourage you to think about how you can use this time when you’re seeing fewer patients to think about how you will recover. What new services can you add to drive incremental revenue and serve economically stressed patients in new ways? I want to share some things that we’re doing during this period to ensure that we come out of this and rapidly accelerate future growth.
The Three Pillars
With plans for staff, rent, and bills handled, we will focus on three key pillars: existing patients, content creation, and staff engagement.
Existing Patients How do we take care of existing patients in myopia treatment so that they become even stronger advocates for our brand and generate more word-of-mouth referrals? These steps should be the same for any specialty service that you may offer such as dry eye, sports vision, vision therapy, etc.
- Communicate When we shifted to “urgent care only” for our centers, we were clear to explain to parents how we will continue to support their child during this time—such as putting gaps in between each appointment, offering telemedicine, and reinforcing our existing disinfecting routines.
- Empathize Remember that parents are dealing with so much, from work changes to “shelter in place” orders and kids now doing school from home while they work from home. So, when we call to reschedule appointments, we keep this in mind and also check in with how the family is doing outside of myopia management care.
- Be Flexible With empathy needs to come flexibility. Be flexible with your days/hours, how you deliver products, and with your payment terms. Now might be the time—if you don’t already—to offer a financing plan. Have a flexible plan and revisit it weekly.
Content Creation We are developing Mandarin and Spanish language versions of our patient content and creating more customized videos and assets to use for external and in-office marketing. The video that you’ve been meaning to shoot and put on your Facebook page—do it today, no excuses. The staff training manual that is 10 years old—update it and make it an online document with links to training videos. Content is king, and now is the time to create it so you are ready for the recovery.
Staff Engagement You can’t solve this issue on your own; now is the time to empower your staff to come up with ideas and test them out to help your business. If you had to lay off some staff members, others may feel even more anxiety than you because they have no sense of control. A great way for people to shift from negative to positive thinking is to feel like they are part of the solution.
Be transparent about the situation and how they can help. Have them take on new duties, come up with ideas to solve cash flow challenges, renegotiate terms with suppliers, or talk to your landlord about rent abatement and deferral options. While these might typically be tasks that you would handle, including your staff in problem solving will help them feel committed to the practice and will take the burden off of you. CLS