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Most Reopening Eyecare Businesses Say Customers Are Taking New Protocols in Stride

And many are surprised at how fast business is picking up…

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IT’S EARLY DAYS yet, but as the industry reopens for business, the vast majority of patients and customers have been understanding, if not downright appreciative, of the new post-pandemic protocols and the new pace of business, according to eyecare biz owners and managers who responded to INVISION’s third COVID-19 Impact Survey. And in what we hope is a positive sign, when asked to tell us what had surprised them most about reopening, the largest group of respondents — nearly 20 percent — said it was the sheer demand for services.

We asked survey respondents how patients/customers are reacting to the new experience, and to tell us about any standouts, good or bad. Overwhelmingly they told us that folks were basically trying to cooperate. Culled from the 92 responses we received to that question, here are some other notable trends:

Basking in the Attention

  • “We are scheduling one patient per hour, so they are thrilled there is no waiting time. They have concierge, personal service as they are the only patient in the office.” — Rita Ellent, OD, The Gardens Eye Care, Forest Hills, NY
  • “We ended up extending our hours so we are able to see the same amount of patients per day but limit the volume of patients in our offices at any given time. Patients have said they enjoy the ‘calmness’ of our office.” — Elizabeth Elliott, Nittany Eye Associates, State College, PA

Unexpected Positives

  • “Those who have come for their appointment have been gracious and also not shy about buying new eyewear.” — Blake Hutto, OD, Family Vision Care, Alma, GA
  • “The quality of transactions is very high due to the [extra] focus on the patient at their appointment. And they are grateful we are open.” — Chris Dudley, Precision Optics at Lake Eye Associates, FL

The Kooks

  • “99 percent understand and one of the 1 percent flipped us off and walked away because we required him to put on a mask.’” — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH
  • “We did have a patient come in for an exam who had been told three times that he would have to wear a mask and showed up for his appointment and refused to wear one. After causing a ruckus in the office and yelling at multiple employees including the doctor, he left the office as I escorted him, shouting how we should all be ashamed of ourselves.” — Caitlin Wicka, San Juan Eye Center, Montrose, CO

Takes All Kinds…

  • “We still are running the full gamut in customer reactions. We’ve got patients who put us through a 20-question Inquisition before they even feel safe enough to tentatively schedule (wanting to know exam spacing, cleaning schedule, who’s wearing masks, etc). And then, on the flip side, we’ve got people coming in who tell us it’s all a hoax and get visibly upset if they walk in and see a staff member putting a mask on. (Shrug.) All we can do is form our own decisions based on the research currently available… and then, own those decisions, while living with compassion.” — Jen Heller, Pend Oreille Vision Care, Sandpoint, ID.

Masks of Propriety

And here’s a roundup of the most common observations that arose concerning getting customers/patients to cover up…

  • The vast majority of people are fine with masks, but those who object really make a fuss.
  • Having said that, even fairly strenuous pushback tends to evaporate when patients are told they’ll need to reschedule.
  • The elderly seem to be among the most averse to wearing them, perhaps counterintuitively given their high-risk status.
  • A surprisingly large number of people don’t wear their masks well, touching and fiddling around with them too much.
  • Patients tend to strip them off as soon as they get inside, rather than waiting to be told at which point during the exam they need to do so.

Turning to the question of “biggest surprises” since reopening, nearly one in five of the 64 owners/managers who replied to that question told us they were taken aback by how quickly business has picked up, though some noted that demand for exams and services was outstripping eyeglass sales. “We’ve been slammed,” said Frances Ann Layton at Eye Associates of South Georgia in Valdosta, GA. “And without bringing everyone else back yet, we are exhausted by the end of the day, and crazy by the end of the week.”

A common refrain was surprise at the wildly diverse emotional states customers are in as they emerge from lockdown. Harry Roth at eyeQ Opticians in Millburn, NJ, found the range of customer behavior “all over the place from not at all concerned to almost paralyzed.”

Among the negative surprises were the cost of PPE and the number of customers demanding deals.

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And finally, a theme that emerged among eye docs was surprise at the extent to which PPE interferes with an eye exam. Dr. Kimberly Uporsky Toscani at For Eyes Optical in Philadelphia, PA, said the main thing she failed to anticipate was “how difficult physically an eye exam is with PPE. The mask makes conversation difficult. Lenses fog. Losing confidence in findings due to these circumstances. Thankfully, patients so far are understanding.”

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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