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Finding Creative Ways to Connect with Patients During Crisis
Many of us were anxiously awaiting the year 2020 to market the “Year of Vision” to our patients, but before we had a chance to breathe, COVID-19 came in and flipped the emphasis of 2020 to one of personal and professional survival. In my opinion, nothing has impacted our profession like this pandemic, leaving us unsure how to serve our patients now and reignite our practices when this is over. Within a landscape of social distancing and sheltering in place, we have been forced to find creative new ways to stay connected to our patients.
Our practice’s doors closed on March 16. At that time, we had hundreds of pairs of glasses and contacts waiting to be dispensed, with hundreds more in the pipeline. We immediately called and rescheduled patients out into April (only to have to call them back later with an indefinite reopen date), recorded a message on our office voicemail about how to reach us for emergency care, and simply went home.
That week we started a social media campaign to let our patients know how they could get their contact lenses and prescriptions and replace broken eye wear. We posted FAQs on our website and amplified them through our voicemail message and social media. The goal was to maintain contact with our patients and reassure them that we were still here for them.
Our first event was April 8. We started posting photos and videos on Facebook and Instagram as soon as cars started to appear. The goal was to highlight the efforts we were taking to protect our patients, but the posts also illustrated the fun people were having and the good will of staff and patients alike. At the end of the two-hour event we had dispensed 108 pairs of glasses, along with dozens of contact lens orders. We immediately set up and promoted a follow-up event, where we dispensed another 128 pairs of glasses and multiple contact lens orders, and our third event was the first week of May. When it became evident that this closure was going to last longer than anticipated, we decided to hold curbside dispensing events for those patients waiting for their glasses. With social distancing in mind, we set up tables in our parking lot to hold the glasses and contacts waiting to be dispensed, and posted signs instructing patients to stay in their cars. Staff, wearing masks and gloves, took patients’ names, found their glasses, and poured the glasses from their bag onto a sterile tray. Patients picked up their glasses from the tray and drove away, satisfied and grateful. They were advised in advance that adjustments would occur after reopening, and any outstanding payments were made by phone.
Our next COVID-19 social media campaign addressed the changes we implemented to make our patients feel more comfortable returning to our office. Our goal was to show our patients that we were busy during the downtime to ensure their safety when they returned to our practice. We began marketing these structural and policy changes a month before we reopened to plant the seed that we are a safe place for patients to come. Structurally, we have added things like plexiglass shields at our reception desk and financial checkout station and new breath guards on all slit lamps. Policy-wise, we have made changes to ensure the safety of our staff, patients, and their families, such as providing masks, limiting patient companions, performing temperature screenings, and more. The patient experience is as contactless as possible, allowing patients to wait in their cars until the doctor is ready, use touchless payment systems, and receive direct shipments of contact lenses.
As I see it, our third COVID-19 social media campaign was the best one yet: Facebook and Instagram posts to announce our grand reopening. Decorations and signage expressed the gratitude we have for our patients and the joy we feel to be of service again. As our situation evolves, we will continue to find ways to connect and care for our patients however we can, until this is all behind us.