5 Key Tips to Reopen and Rebuild an Optical Practice In This New Reality
By Robert Mursuli, Chief Operating Officer at Eye Doctor’s Optical Outlets
As our practice re-emerges from the COVID-19 shutdown, it looks strikingly different than it did a only fewmonths ago. Our eyecare business operations have evolved considerably to prioritize the health and safety of patients and employees in this new reality. It is the responsibility of eyecare practice leadership to adjust operating procedures and follow guidelines to rebuild employees’ and patients’ trust in the post-COVID world. Here are the five best practices we have adopted to reopen and rebuild a successful practice:
Patient Satisfaction is #1
Patient satisfaction is always our No. 1 priority and is more essential now than ever before. It’s important to consistently ask yourself: How satisfied are patients with the service they received? Did they feel safe in the store? Were they treated properly? Were they treated with respect? Did we provide great customer service to them? Focus on providing a delightful customer experience and providing incentives to your team to see the biggest return. Communicate with your patients about the measures you’re taking to prioritize their health and safety, so they feel reassured coming into your practice.
Patients Want Financial Help
With the economic downturn, many patients are uneasy about how to pay for their eyecare needs. We want to do what we can to help alleviate stress at the register and still give our customers the eyewear they want. The best way we’ve found to do this is by partnering with Sunbit, a technology company that enables our patients to spread their payments over time.
Prior to Sunbit we were using other financing tools, but the patient approval rates were low, which impacted our customer experience greatly. Patients would get upset and embarrassed when they were denied financing, leading our team to lack confidence in these tools. However, with Sunbit technology, over 90% of our patients are approved, there is no hard credit check, the application process takes 30 seconds, and every qualified customer gets the option to pay over three months with 0% APR. The improved check-out experience has positively impacted sales and resulted in more upgrades to higher-end frames and photochromic and antiglare lenses. In fact, during our first month piloting Sunbit immediately before COVID-19, we generated an additional $41,047 in revenue.
We are excited to onboard the remaining 44 stores with Sunbit over the next few months. In the stores with Sunbit, we’re already seeing success similar to preCOVID times. I feel confident that Sunbit technology will help us provide better patient service and overcome revenue concerns that are inevitable during this time.
Extend Your Hours to Spread Out Your Foot Traffic
We’ve been in business for 33 years, so we have a lot of patients relying on us to serve them at our usual capacity, but limiting our in-person interactions is essential for their safety. Government regulations will determine how many patients we can allow in the door for a while. But even after that, it’s hard to imagine a time when we will be back to a practice full of people like before.
Right now, our doctors are seeing only two to three patients per hour depending on the facility, and no one other than the patient is allowed inside (unless they are a minor or need assistance). In some offices where we used to have four or five doctors working, now there is only one.
In order to help compensate for the reduced patient traffic every hour, consider extending your business hours. Rather than seeing substantially fewer patients each day, we are considering extending our hours of operation to 8- or 10-hour periods so we reduce the delta between the number of patients served pre-COVID and post-COVID. For every two-hour increase in operations, we can increase the volume of patients served per doctor per day by at least 33%.
Also, in an effort to limit interactions in-store, we developed an online portal to gather patient information, rather than them completing a form on-site and exchanging pens and paperwork. The patient can upload their insurance card and fill out the patient demographic form, so it’s taken care of before they come in. That’s less time for them to spend in the store, and less handling of paperwork back and forth.
We are also now shipping glasses to our patients when they’re ready, instead of dispensing them in person to help reduce in-store visits. Because we now offer payment plan technology with Sunbit, patients can choose to split their payments over time upon ordering, and we can rest assured that the practice gets paid for the transaction the next business day.
Boost Employee Morale
Unfortunately, we had to let many of our employees go during the pandemic, which raised concerns about what this meant for our future as a company. As we reopen and rehire our teams, we’ve found that it is essential to reiterate the value each person provides and reassure your team about your health protocols. Being honest about the state of business and the unknowns, and showing genuine consideration is essential for employee morale and loyalty and will help with overall productivity. Also, providing high-quality training on safety measures and new procedures will build confidence.
Sanitation is Critical
I have zero tolerance for a practice that does not prioritize sanitation. At Eye Doctor’s Optical Outlets, we’re ordering a surplus of alcohol-based sanitizers and cleaning supplies to maintain cleanliness throughout the patient waiting areas, bathrooms, consultation rooms, and frame displays. Although it is a challenge to track down enough supplies for every one of our 54 locations, it is essential for each store to follow this prescribed cleaning protocol.
A critical part of our sterilization process is maintaining cleanliness of our instruments and frames. As our patients try on frames, they are required to place worn frames on a tray instead of putting them back on the display. After they’re done, we take the tray and disinfect the frames before putting them back for other patients to try on.
It’s important to remember that this is all new, but we can find solace knowing that our entire industry is adapting together. These are tough times we’re facing, and we can’t expect to exceed revenue goals immediately upon reopening. Patience is important. Focus on what you can control such as seeking out the best practices to adapt your business and welcoming technology like Sunbit to increase customers’ purchasing power. Now, more than ever, we must get innovative and pay keen attention to patients’ needs so we can focus on rebuilding.
As published in Optometric Management.