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Reboot 20/20: Strategies for Restarting Your Practice Post-COVID-19

3 practice management strategies for a smooth restart of operations.

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OVER THE PAST few months, optometrists have been faced with a series of difficult decisions. Long-time employees and teams have been laid off, tough financial choices have been made and expansions delayed. ODs have had to quickly adapt to manage patient care while supporting broader health and safety priorities.

Coming out of COVID-19 will also be challenging. But even if uncertainty remains, there are some things of which we can be certain. Patients still require eyecare, and while “business as usual” may be unusual for some time, tried-and-true business strategies are what will help eyecare professionals reboot their businesses post-pandemic.

Here are three practice management strategies that will help ECPs plan for a smooth, successful and sustainable restart of their operations.

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Patient Communication

If patients don’t know you’re open, they won’t know to come in.

Clear patient communication first and foremost will be critical to a successful practice reboot. This includes communicating about how your practice is abiding by — or going above and beyond — COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

As local economies re-open, it is important to explain to existing and new patients how you’ll be open, and when. Consider the following:

  • Is your practice open with physical distancing restrictions in place?
  • Are you only seeing certain patients on a priority basis?
  • Are your hours reduced or certain times restricted to certain patients?

After addressing health and safety concerns, it is important to properly set patient expectations for how you will be able to serve them in the weeks and months ahead. Answering the questions above can help frame what re-opening looks like for your practice, and ultimately what that will mean for you, your staff and your patients.

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Recalling

Even amid uncertainty, ECPs are able to, and should plan for, how they will bring in business when life returns to some shade of normal.

Recalling is an essential part of a smooth transition to regular operations. Even if your practice remains closed, it is possible to book patients in for appointments down the road. Even on a part-time basis, doing so provides an opportunity for your practice to connect with patients, find out how they’re doing and check in on their eye health needs. Some of those needs — such as contact lens refills — could even be addressed remotely if a patient has had an eye exam in the last 12 months.

The longer a practice waits to recall and rebook patients, the longer the practice waits to rebuild revenue. If a practice can afford to begin checking in with patients and addressing concerns early, it can begin to build activity for when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. After all, operations won’t be normal if a practice attempts to restart with an empty exam and appointment book.

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Plan Your Return

Clear patient communication and recalling are essential parts of a practice’s reboot, for reasons explained above. Both should be part of a plan that not only covers what the next few weeks or couple of months will involve, but what the rest of your year looks like.

COVID-19 will have no doubt thwarted revenue, recalling and sales targets in the first half of 2020, it’s important to begin evaluating how this will impact your full fiscal year, and what you may need to do to make up lost ground.

This is why the road to recovery post-COVID-19 will be challenging: even though we are all craving a rebound back to normalcy, how we get there should be mapped out, and driven by health, safety and financial considerations that will support your practice over the long term.

One of the biggest challenges will be around staffing. Depending on your location, physical distancing requirements may prevent a small practice from hiring back all full-time staff. Financial issues may also prevent an ECP from scaling his or her team back up to 100 percent right away. At the same time, a reduced workforce potentially means fewer hours, the ability to support fewer patients, less recalling and less revenue.

Recovering from COVID-19 will require creativity, strategy and openness to new ideas, such as enabling your recaller to work from home part- or full-time.

Without the ability to predict the rest of a highly unpredictable year, a plan provides security. I recommend ECPs start with the following steps:

  • Assess your practice’s revenue, costs and earnings year-to-date, forecast where you expect to be by June 30, and compare the first half of 2020 to the first half of 2019 (or to your target for the first half of 2020, if you have one).
  • If your practice is behind either where you were last year or behind your target, prorate the difference over the final six months of the year.
  • Adjust your monthly targets — for revenue, earnings, costs, or any other metric — to reflect both what you expected to achieve from July to December, and what you need to recover.
  • Break down your new targets to understand how many more appointments your recaller(s) will need to book, for example, or by how much you need to increase your eyewear sales.
  • When rebooting your practice, let your plan inform who you hire and how quickly you hire, the tasks you prioritize, the training you support to get staff up to speed, and the many other decisions you make as you re-open.

Health and safety have perhaps never been so top-of-mind for so many of us all at once. Perhaps this will inspire more consumers to think differently or more regularly about their health.

As frontline health care providers, ODs and their teams continue to be in a prime position to help people manage an important piece of their overall health. The challenge will be navigating the uncertainty, the change, the concerns and the restrictions that could complicate the delivery of face-to-face health care services throughout 2020.

Pauline Blachford works with ECPs on strategies for recalling, increasing eyewear sales, and improving staff productivity. She is a sought-after speaker at industry conferences and events, and writes regularly for a variety of industry publications. Visit her at paulineblachford.com

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