Doing Right by Patients and Employees During Crisis

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As a private practice owner, my number-one priority is to do right by my patients and employees. When COVID-19 hit, finding ways to do that became challenging.  Eight months in, I’m pleased to report that with the support of our partners, the dedication of our staff, and the loyalty of our patients, we are now busier than ever. Our practice is growing, and most importantly, I am doing right by my patients and employees.

The majority of our five practices were closed to non-essential care for 10 weeks once the Shelter in Place order was implemented. During that time, we worked with partners like PECAA (Professional Eye Care Associates of America) and VSP to gear up for reopening, securing hard-to-find personal protective equipment (PPE) and implementing sanitation protocols. Our objective was to make staff and patients feel as comfortable and safe as possible when they came back. I was worried about the livelihood of my employees, many of whom have been with us for more than 10 years, and was able to apply for the paycheck protection program (PPP) and keep them employed at full salary. Some worked on organizing and readying our practices for reopening; some on communicating with patients; and one became our “COVID Czar,” responsible for learning about all things COVID and the safety protocols we needed to put into place.

I have always given out my cell phone number to patients, so it was an easy transition to implement telemedicine services during the closure. Patients sent me pictures of their eyes or their loved ones’ eyes, and I was able to make preliminary diagnoses and prescribe medicine when appropriate—all without patients having to leave their homes. This was especially important for our elderly and at-risk patients who were nervous about venturing out but needed care. I could have billed for this service but felt compelled to provide it at no charge during the initial shelter in place mandate, given the relationships I have with my patients and my desire to help wherever I could during this crisis.

Now that we are back open, we have implemented new protocols to keep patients safe—and to reassure them that they are safe. Patients see us disinfecting the exam chair between patients, wiping down doorknobs; they see staff, myself included, getting our foreheads scanned when we walk in the room. Seeing us take these precautions lets patients know their safety and comfort is a priority for us, and the practice is busier today than it was before the pandemic started.

A Partnership
VSP recently offered a COVID-19 patient care grant to thank doctors for taking care of their patients during this difficult time and to help offset some of the expenses resulting from the pandemic. We applied for and received the funds, which we plan to use to purchase some new equipment for one of our practices. The grant was just one more way VSP showed us they have our back, especially during these challenging times. I choose to partner with organizations that help me grow my practice, and VSP has done and continues to do just that—through the Premier Program, which gives us a step up for patients selecting a practice, to Premier Pathways, which helped us find an associate doctor within 72 hours of placing our ad. VSP cares about their network doctors and is committed to helping them succeed.

The Future
I am optimistic about the future of my practice, which continues to grow. And, I am optimistic about our profession. Optometry is very dynamic, and we constantly have to adjust, change our way of thinking, and adapt. As I see it, whatever changes come our way, we will continue to thrive when our goal is to do right by our patients and our staff.

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