My prescription fluctuates. It has since I was nine years old. So for me, getting an annual eye exam is essential. When I started getting headaches related to eye strain I knew it was probably time to go in and take a look at my prescription. 

Calling and making that appointment felt normal. But this was 2020 and I knew the experience would not feel like any other year before. 

Upon coming in for my appointment, the COVID-related changes were apparent and unsettling. The typically bustling office was nearly empty, the waiting room only had two lonely looking chairs, and, of course, everyone was masked. 

The reception staff was nice enough and took me into the back room to complete some of the diagnostics with meticulous cleaning on each machine. I remember thinking that it looked like a lot of work and I wondered how many other precautions aren’t easily seen by patients, like extra cleaning in the bathroom or reducing appointment volume.

A close call quelled by safety protocol

Fast forward four days, I am looking forward to the holiday season and making tough choices about which family to see and how to see them as safely as possible. I received a voicemail from my doctor's office. The news was not good. Not one, but two staff members had come down with symptoms and tested positive. They were certain I was exposed during my appointment at the office. 

I remember thinking at the time that this was the worst possible news. I live with an immunocompromised infant. My parents are elderly. I’ve been exposed, and now I could be infected?! After a few days of isolation, tests, hand-wringing and stress, it was confirmed I did not “catch” the coronavirus. 

Despite the exposure, the safety protocols appeared to be working. Transmission didn’t happen. The masks, the cleanings, the distance — all the other extra work — it kept me safe. It kept my whole family safe. I am tired of talking about COVID. I want it to go away and stay neatly tucked away as an awful 2020 problem. I don’t want to walk on eggshells and take precautions everywhere I go. But … it’s still here and precautions to keep safe are still needed. So for now, the extra work remains. 

For those of you doing the extra work - thank you. For those of you who are tired, I hear you. Heck, I’m with you, but don’t lose heart. You are making a difference that you can’t always see.

Sanitize every surface a patient or staff member may come in contact with throughout the day.

Tips for keeping visitors safe in your space

We’re so close, but there’s still more work to do to keep patients safe during their appointments. Data indicates providers are doing that work: 99% are requiring patients to wear a mask, according to the Wave 18 Coronavirus ECP Study. Furthermore, 47% spend at least an hour a day cleaning the office and exam rooms. 

It’s important that this essential work continue as we close in on the end of this pandemic. In order to help, here are some tips for keeping your space safe:

Sanitization

One of the most visible but time consuming ways to keep your staff and patients safe is to stay on top of sanitizing anything and everything! Set aside time in the morning, at midday and at the end of day to wipe down surfaces throughout your waiting area, front desk, exam rooms and so on. 

Reducing clutter around your waiting area, front desk and exam rooms will reduce the amount of surface area you and your team have to clean each day. Pay special attention to pens, tablet surfaces, keyboards, doorknobs and countertops. And make sure to wipe down pens, tablets, exam equipment and anything else patients will touch directly in front of them.

Communication

Cleaning is one thing. Making sure patients know your new protocols is another. That’s why we recommended cleaning certain surfaces in front of them. And it’s also why communication is so important right now. 

If you haven’t already, send patients your updated policies on sanitization, patient flow and PPE. If you have sent them out, it can’t hurt to remind patients! Additionally, make sure you run through these changes in any pre-appointment calls. You should also hang signage around the office reminding patients and staff to wear PPE, wash their hands, etc.

Your scripts may need changing as the pandemic affects operations. Could your script use an update to reflect the rules where you’re located? With circumstances changing quickly, it can't hurt to check!

Patient flow

Patient flow has changed for just about everyone at one point or another since the pandemic began. And many offices are still dealing with reduced volume — 58% of ECPs had lower year-over-year patient volume to close out December, according to Jobson. 

Reduced patient volume isn’t ideal, but it does allow for you and your team to spend more time sanitizing surfaces. And there are creative ways to make up for some of that lost volume. For example, if you sell patients materials you could offer curbside pickup or even ship items if there’s room in your margins for it. Or you could take some private pay patients at a higher rate to make up for lost volume. 

We appreciate you!

This is just one small story among millions and I am lucky enough to have had a fortunate outcome. I know not everyone is as lucky. But, as a patient, all I can say is how grateful I am that my eye doctor took every precaution to keep me safe. I’d like to encourage all our partners and friends in industry who are doing the same for their patients. Your dedication and care are appreciated. Thank you for keeping us, your patients, safe this year and next.