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ECP Biz Owners Struggle to Make Productive Use of Downtime

The new skills they learned include video editing, telemedicine, text-to-pay systems, juggling and nunchucks.

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COVID-19 productivity chart for eyecare professionals

WE ASKED RESPONDENTS to part two of INVISION’s COVID-19 Impact Survey to rate their productivity on a scale of 1 (completely non-productive) to 10 (incredibly productive) since the start of the pandemic (or lockdown). The responses were fairly evenly distributed, though a clear plurality (about 19 percent) rated themselves smack in the middle with a 5 out of 10, and more than 60 percent rated themselves a 5 out of 10 or less.

If we could put into words what most ECP biz owners are doing with most of their time right now it would be: “repairs, emergencies and a few CL orders.” Michael Martorana of Falls City Eye Care in Louisville, KY, was fairly typical in his account of how he spends his time these days: “I am one of the few ODs seeing urgent care patients in the city so that keeps a couple people on the books every day. I get one or two contact orders a day. Besides that we are mandated to not see any routine visits unless they are severely vision-impaired without correction.” Those not seeing urgent care patients reported watching webinars, cleaning, catching up on billing and building e-commerce platforms. Many admitted that their “increase” in personal productivity was simply a byproduct of not having staff around to help with such tasks.

Following the 5-point group, the next biggest groups scored themselves at 3 points (15 percent) and 6 points (12 percent). And more than 10 percent put themselves at a 1 out of 10.

There were a few impressive outliers, however. Robert Easton Jr. of Robert M Easton Jr. OD, FAAO in Oakland Park, FL, wore us out with this summary: “While the staff is at home, I’ve gone through every account receivable, every eyeglass order, every contact lens order and made sure they were both mailed to the patient with a letter to return for any adjustments or needed follow-up once we open. I also painted our entrance wall, cleaned the floors, wiped down all the countertops, vacuumed the carpet and polished all the hardwood furniture. In addition, I replaced one of the 4-ton AC package units on the roof. I go in daily for a few hours to check the mail, reorder contact lenses and drop ship them to the patient’s home, extend out glaucoma Rx’s and follow up on any calls. I also separated out the waiting room chairs by 6 feet. We will be ready, clean and safe to open.”

In a related question, we asked respondents what new skills they had learned as a result of the crisis, or being forced to work away from the office.

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Non-eye related responses ran the gamut from learning how to build a fence or finding new ways to keep toddlers entertained, to mastering the arts of jigsaw-puzzle completion, juggling and nunchucks.

On the professional front, a definite pattern emerged in which stranded eye docs have found themselves getting crash courses in the many skills that keep their practices afloat in normal times. “As I’ve seen only urgent patients in the office I’ve had to reacquaint myself with operating all our automated instruments, doing frame repairs and dispensing. It’s been a while, and makes me appreciate my terrific staff all the more,” said Elizabeth Atkinson of Atkinson Eye Care in Algonquin, IL. Bart Parker at Fox Optical in Lake Worth, FL reported being forced to learn “front desk skills and patience.”

Among the most oft-cited new skills that otherwise unoccupied ECPs reported picking up during COVID-imposed downtime are video editing, telemedicine, text-to-pay systems, webinar participation and the use of Zoom and related technologies.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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