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Nearly 9-in-10 Eyecare Biz Owners See COVID-19 Causing Permanent Change to Their Businesses

Some 18% of ECPs surveyed by INVISION say their practice has been ‘transformed forever’.

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IT MAY BE too early to say exactly what shape it will take, but one thing is for certain: When the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, the optical industry will not be the same. Nearly 88 percent of respondents to part two of INVISION’s COVID-19 Impact Survey expected the pandemic to result in permanent changes to their business.

This special INVISION Brain Squad survey was responded to by 89 business owners and managers in the United States and Canada.

Asked “To what extent do you expect the COVID-19 crisis to result in permanent changes to business (such as operating with a thinner staff or relying more on ecommerce?),” about 18 percent chose the reply, “A great deal: My business has been transformed forever,” and more than 69 percent chose, “Somewhat: We will stick with a few of the changes.” Only 8 percent told us “Not at all: We’ll be returning to our normal way of doing things,” while just over 2 percent said they had made no significant changes.

Asked to comment on specific technologies or business practices they’re likely to continue using once things get back to normal, a number of responding ECPs said they planned to continue with their forays into telemedicine, as well as curb-side pickup, ship-to-patient services and stepped-up hygiene practices including UV-wanding frames and mandatory hand-sanitizing. Text-to-pay services also seem set for a boost.

Some practices have been taking a long hard look at their use of vision plans. “We won’t be trying to get as many patients through as we were before,” said Dr. Amber Fritsch of Precision Eye Care in Mt. Juliet, TN. “Initially we are going to one patient per room per hour to allow ample time for sanitizing. Considering vision plan reimbursements will be flat, this may lead to dropping some of the lower paying plans to maximize patient encounters we do have. The sanitizing is likely to stay for a while, as a vaccine is 18 months away at the earliest. More PPE will be worn in the office. We may also continue to offer curbside pickup for those who prefer it. Hopefully contact lens vendors will extend free shipping for two boxes of contact lenses or more as well.”

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Dr. Pauline Buck at Behavioral and Developmental Optometrists in Miami, FL, has found at least one silver lining in the crisis: “I realize that I can work remotely very easily and can transform family vacations in the mountains to partially working weeks.”

In testing and exam rooms, it sounds like we can expect to see more digital phoropters. And Dr. Texas Smith at Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates in Citrus Heights, CA, plans on moving to “Fundus photos on all patients. Ophthalmoscopy face-to-face will probably become a thing of the past.”

ECPs’ responses to COVID-19 are still evolving, but business owners are already starting to formulate some key lessons. Many commented that they plan to set aside more savings going forward. Dr. Erika Tydor at Shoreline Eyecare in Shoreline, WA said her key takeaways were to “Pay off the business loan and have at least a three-month cash reserve. And that it is better to be an employee than an employer in a crisis — employees get taken care of, employers get the finger.” The need for self-reliance was echoed by Annette Prevaux at The Visionary Inc. in Allen Park, MI, who counseled her peers, “Don’t count on the government to take care of you and your small business.”

Other ECPs pointed to important lessons about practice management, including the value of a good EHR system for staying connected to patients and providing eyecare even when your office is closed to non-emergency appointments.

Given the sheer speed with which COVID-19 has eclipsed the economy, perhaps the most fundamental lesson learned, according to our Brain Squad members, was the need for financial flexibility and to be prepared for change that is rapid and totally unforeseen. “We all need to be ready for anything,” said Steve Nelson at Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH. “This was a huge wake up call not just to us but the entire optical industry.”

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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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