As the entire globe carefully navigates through this COVID-19 challenge, the Advancing Eyecare Alliance would like to offer some tips and guidance to consider as you begin to reopen for patients.
By now, it should be common practice that masks & gloves be worn at all times, and that consistent hand-washing / hand-sanitizing occurs before and after every patient encounter. Have your patients also use hand-sanitizer whenever possible, before and after the exam. If patients don’t have their own mask, it might be a good idea to supply one for them if you can.
Maintaining an acceptable distance between you and your patients, at least as much as possible given tight office & exam room constraints, should also be common practice right now. Escorting patients at all times through the office also helps to eliminate any “wandering”, and further reduces the possibility of unnecessary exposure & contamination.
Try to limit the number of patients you schedule, and spread out your appointments as much as possible. And by all means, try to eliminate additional family members. There should be only one patient per exam room, no extras! Expand your office hours, and possibly days, to compensate for longer patient intervals. Rearrange your waiting room to provide as much space as possible between patients. Ask as many COVID-19 “screening” questions as possible (any temperature, any recent travels, any family members or friends recently test positive?). Also, consider investing in thermometers and taking temperatures prior to seeing patients.
Incorporate an on-line patient registration process to reduce personal interaction. If patients have to manually sign-in, use disposable pens (and tell the patient they can keep it after they sign in!). Wherever appropriate, install plexiglass screening barriers for additional protection. Increase the use of contact-less payment options. Payment by phone is another way to reduce any extra face-to-face encounters. Offer curb-side pick-up of glasses, contact lenses, etc.
Sanitization (In the Office)
Maintaining a clean office is, of course, essential to keeping your patients & staff healthy. Constantly sanitize all surfaces that see human activity, both in the waiting room and throughout the office. Wipe down all door handles (don’t forget about bathroom handles) both inside & out. It also helps if your patients get to occasionally witness this cleaning process. Again, they like seeing the attention to this very important detail.
Sanitization (In the Exam Room)
This is obviously THE most critical area to keep clean – before & after every patient. Always sanitize all instrumentation a patient comes in contact with. Forehead rests, chinrests, exam chair armrests, etc. That includes any pre-test equipment, autorefractors, OCTs, and visual field machines. Don’t forget about phoropter face shields. Those especially need proper sanitizing after every refraction. Also, slit lamp breath shields have become an absolute must in this new environment. Most surfaces require a strong alcohol-based cleansing agent depending on the instrument, however some cleansing agents may damage instruments. It’s always wise to consult with your supplier for advice on proper sanitization techniques for your instruments if you’re not sure. Also, try to leave doors open as much as possible to help circulate air for better ventilation, especially in exam rooms.
Communications / Marketing / Patient Experience
This component is absolutely critical. Reassuring your patients that you are doing everything possible for their safety builds trust and confidence. Educate your patients by updating your website, social media channels, and your on-hold messaging. Email marketing is an affordable, yet effective way to reach your patients—send them periodic updates to keep them in the loop.
When patients check in, provide them with a checklist that highlights all the things you’re doing to create a comfortable, sanitized environment. Add signage around your office with friendly reminders on social distancing, cleaning policies, etc. By now, everyone is keenly aware of the basic guidelines & protocols businesses must take, and the expectations for medical facilities are even greater.
However, it’s one thing to take the necessary and proper precautions, but it leaves a much longer-lasting impression when they actually see you doing these things. Provide them with a white-glove experience from the moment they walk in the door. Make sure they see you or your staff wiping things down. Take 30 seconds to explain to them everything you’re doing for them. Communication is a must to keep your patients engaged and at ease, and actually experiencing it for themselves will resonate in a whole different manner. Patients have a new expectation of standard of care and the definition of trust has changed.
Finally, this experience has given everyone valuable time to consider new ways to deliver eye care, and telemedicine is certainly at the top of the list. Automated refraction and slit lamp imaging are now essential for social distancing and helping prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Maintain your distance, evaluate patients virtually from the next room to minimize exposure, or even provide exams from home—these instruments provide you with flexibility. As an added benefit, these technologies increase efficiency and profitability as well. While the technology has been around for years, the need for these in practices is more important now than ever.
From our family to yours, we wish you the very best during the recovery process. The eye care community is resilient, and we’re here to help every step of the way.
About Advancing Eyecare
Advancing Eyecare is a partnership of leaders in the eyecare instrumentation marketplace established to offer the best products and service solutions in the ophthalmic equipment industry. Currently comprised of INNOVA Medical, S4Optik, Marco Ophthalmic, Lombart Instrument, Enhanced Medical Services (EMS) and Ophthalmic Instruments, Inc. , the combined scope of the organization has the broadest product portfolio, the most knowledgeable people, and the most reliable service in the industry.