As COVID-19 spreads the unfortunate reality is many eye care professionals are going to be physically cut off from their practices for a while. The coronavirus lockdown could last weeks or it could last months. But that doesn’t mean your business has to grind to a halt. 

Thanks in part to abundant technology it’s possible to continue working as federal government guidelines and regional lockdowns are implemented to combat the coronavirus. Temporarily waived restrictions also make it easier for eye care professionals to set telehealth appointments as we all strive to maintain social distancing. Optometrists, opticians and all eye care professionals can take steps in the coming days to ensure business continuity through the coronavirus outbreak.

Eye care practices across the country are closed due to the coronavirus or COVID19
ECPs across the country are shuttering their businesses to protect their communities.

Staying open during the coronavirus outbreak

The American Optometric Association has announced it supports the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that all routine eye care visits be postponed. These control and prevention CDC guidelines will almost certainly affect vision care providers. 

Things won’t be normal for some time. The second Jobson Optical Research survey on COVID-19 found that 51% of eye care professionals foresee a substantial drop in practice revenues—up from 5% in the first survey. 

It’s no surprise 66% of ECPs rate their COVID-19 anxiety as “moderate or higher,” according to INVISION’s Coronavirus Impact Survey. Cases of the virus are proliferating rapidly, as is concern about its effect on our lives.

It’s clear the coronavirus has cascaded into a financial problem for business owners across the country. Here are some tips to keep your practice afloat as we remain on emergency footing:

Your coronavirus business plan

The health of the people you care about is priority number one. However, number two should be the financial health of your business. It’s after you have a full understanding of this that you can start mapping viable paths forward. 

This is especially important for ECPs that are in-network and rely on payers to reimburse them for the services they provide. As people across the country practice social distancing, cancelations will stack up. That means fewer reimbursements from payers down the line.

The delay between appointment and reimbursement can complicate practice financials as you navigate an unprecedented, near-total shutdown. This is especially true if you have a large number of claims tied up in A/R. 

If you’re one of those practices you’ll have cash flow for now but will need a plan for one or two months from now when reimbursement checks inevitably slow down. 

How budgeting will differ for cash-pay practices

Upfront, cash-pay practices should budget differently. You’re not receiving checks from services offered two months ago, but you do have cash from your most recent appointments. Instead of planning for revenue coming months from now, you’ll have to plan on how you can hold onto the income you’re collecting now.

Practices that take payment upfront will be able to ride out the coronavirus with a steady stream of telehealth appointments, contact lens renewals and whatever other services they can eke out. Those that rely solely on payer reimbursements may face dips in revenue and cash-on-hand without strict budgeting.

Applying for a coronavirus relief loan under the CARES Act

Careful budgeting is extremely important at a time when revenue is as constrained as it is right now for practices. However, President Donald Trump recently signed the CARES Act, which was designed by Congress to provide emergency loans and grants to small businesses among other sectors of the economy. The loans most ECPs will be interested in are being offered under the Paycheck Protection Program.

This coronavirus relief for small businesses may prove an essential lifeline for many ECPs. To ensure full loan forgiveness, the proceeds should be used for maintaining payroll, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities—with at least 75% reserved for payroll.

accounts receivable health is something to look into amid the coronavirus shutdown.
Now's a great time to tackle accounts receivable.

Evaluate your A/R health

If your patients aren’t paying for services and materials upfront then you probably have accounts receivable you’re looking to pare down. Now is a great time to tackle your A/R. And if you haven't figured it out yet, now is a great time to learn more about your practice's A/R.

Unhealthy A/R can be especially disruptive over the next month or two as COVID-19 muddles revenue streams. It’s more important than ever that practices get a handle on their A/R sooner than later in order to ensure consistent cash flow. 

A great way to start is to analyze how long various payments have remained in A/R and categorize them according to length. For example, you can build buckets for less-than-30 days, 31-to-60 days, 61-to-90 days and so on. Afterward, you’ll have a better understanding of how to prioritize addressing payments caught up in A/R. 

Review your financials or take advantage of A/R services to determine where your practice’s A/R stands and what you need to do to ensure you receive the payments you’re owed.

Anagram is offering a free financial audit, as well as A/R investigation services, to assist practices during this time. Click here to learn more.

Time to tackle telehealth

Is your practice set up to take these telehealth appointments? The government waived barriers to telehealth services, making it easier for ECPs to provide care to their patients while they practice social distancing. 

As part of the country’s ongoing COVID-19 mobilization optometrists will be fully recognized as physicians. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is relaxing cost-sharing for telehealth visits. Finally, the Trump administration waived federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act requirements barring ECPs from using platforms such as Skype and Facetime for telehealth appointments. 

These emergency, regulatory changes will make it easier for ECPs to quickly set their practices up tp provide remote services. Whether for routine eye exams or more thorough examinations of eye conditions, these temporary revisions will help ECPs continue caring for their patients via telehealth visits. 

Implement your eye care marketing ideas

It can be tough to find the time to spend on marketing. This is just about the worst way to free that time up, but it's important to remain productive in growing your practice. That includes promoting it. Here are some marketing tips for your downtime:

Optimize for local search

Search is becoming increasingly localized as Google tries to improve user experiences by personalizing results. That means business that rely on their communities for revenue such as eye care practices need to start optimizing for local search. Updating your Google My Business profile, including local keywords on your website and updating your Yelp profile are all examples of optimizing for local search.

Create content for marketing your practice

Content marketing is a great way to attract new patients and build stronger relationships with existing ones. How? It can position you and your practice's brand as an eye care though leader. If you can create unique, interesting content that educates patients on relevant topics they'll keep coming back to you for more! That will translate into trust for your practice brand and new business. Use a blog, videos or social media to turn your marketing content ideas into reality!

Email campaigns for patients

How do you stay in touch with patients? Email campaigns are great way to continue communicating them without being too intrusive. Build out campaigns to tell them you're still fulfilling contact lens orders, you're offering telehealth services, you're posting a new blog or anything else that may be relevant to them!

Contact lens sales are one way to generate revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic
Contact-lens exams without lens orders are opportunities to generate revenue during the coronavirus outbreak.

Identify services you can offer off-premises

Some ECPs offer services that they can provide without leaving their homes. Contact lenses, for example, are an opportunity for ECPs not-quite-prepared for telehealth to continue generating revenue while social distancing—a plan valued members of our Customer Advisory Board described to us. 

Use your EMR to determine who you’ve provided contact lens exams recently. Then identify which of those individuals still have benefits to use. This list of patients offers opportunity for you to continue collecting revenue while the coronavirus disruption remain. Reach out to these individuals and let them know they still have benefits they can use—specifically on their contacts. 

In order to continue processing contact lens claims for your patients all you need is:

  • A list of all patients who you’ve provided contact lens exams for recently.
  • Access to benefits for patients who’ve received contact lens exams.
  • A payments system that allows you to process HIPAA-compliant payments from your home. 

At a moment when every dollar counts and when ECPs find themselves with time on hand, a concerted effort to convert contact lens patients can help your practice generate much-needed revenue. It won't be what you had before the coronavirus began obstructing revenue streams, but every dollar counts.

Find extra time to spend with your family

Finally, spend any additional free time you have with the people you care about—while maintaining the best social distancing practices!

It’s times like these when it’s so important to keep in mind what’s important. And that’s our family, our friends and all the people we care so much about. That quality time will have an immeasurable positive effect on your well-being during a time when we all need it. 

While all this is going on make sure you carve out time to spend with those individuals. They’ll appreciate and you will as well. Ultimately, that’s what matters.