My Practice’s Covid-19 Response & Managing the Chaos

By Mary Hollis Stuck March 30, 2020

2020 was supposed to be “our year” in optometry. The number itself was made for us. Now, here I am in the middle of the work-day, writing articles from my home office. Grocery store shelves are bare. Bars are shut down. Sports have been completely cancelled. This is truly a situation like many of us haven’t experienced before.  COVID-19 is real, and it is affecting all of us.

My practice closed its doors yesterday afternoon for what will hopefully be only two weeks. The practice owners, two ODs, made the anxiety-riddled decision to furlough/temporarily lay off 75% of their staff. We are not the only ones who have made that decision, or something similar, but there are plenty of practices who are still handling business as usual. Here is how our practice, a busy three-OD practice that opened its doors in the 60s, is handling COVID-19.

Still open for business? Be sure to practice these precautions!

Limit the number of people in your office. Place signage on your doors, and post online, requesting patients bring no more than one person with them for any appointment.

Insist all people entering the practice sanitize their hands immediately, either with hand sanitizer or soap and water.

Remove a number of chairs, or rearrange furniture in your waiting area. Keep people from sitting closer than six feet from one another.

Properly clean and sanitize all equipment a patient comes in contact with. This means auto-refractors,  slit lamps, even PD sticks.

Sanitize frames before putting them back on the frame boards. I recommend looking up what materials can be easily damaged. 70% isopropyl alcohol or above will kill the virus. I did not see any damage to any of our frames when using this during the last few days. Discontinue use of cleaning cloths, and only clean frames using disposable wipes.

Closing up shop? Here is some advice on how to help your patients while still keeping doors closed and yourself safe.

Consider your employees. While many small business owners are making the decision to pay their employees regular wages, or at least a percentage of such, how long can that go on? Positive thinking is great, but you must be realistic in these times. This situation could last weeks, it could be months. The sooner you make a decision, the sooner your staff could begin collecting unemployment benefits. Research your state guidelines on unemployment and furlough. It is recommended that you speak to a lawyer before making a decision, to protect both your practice and your staff.

Research your state guidelines on any emergency funds that may be available. While there is lots of information being flooded on social media, be sure not to take all of it to heart. Again, speaking to a lawyer and your accountants would be advised.

Update your website, Facebook, Google, and all other social media immediately with your plan of action. Assure your patients you will update them moving forward.

Have your practice ready for emergencies. Our practice uses Google Voice, an inexpensive way for our doctors to trade off being on call. Miss a call? You can get an email letting you know there was a voicemail, so no patient goes without help. Phone triage can be especially useful during this time. Be sure to document your calls, just as you would with an in-office visit. These calls may be billed to insurance, if coded as a proper telehealth visit.




Remote image submitted by patient


Telephonic E/M; 5-10 min of medical discussion


Telephonic E/M; 11-20 min of medical discussion


Telephonic E/M; 21-30 min of medical discussion


Prepare yourself for those patients who need to pick up eyewear. You may choose to offer a pick up station, where you simply hand off eyeglasses or contacts with a gloved hand when the patient drives up. Others may offer shipping direct to patient. Remember, this is a state of emergency, and billing to ship directly to the patient is probably not advisable.

Consider your delivery methods. Most practices receive shipping from labs daily, often by courier or UPS. Labs are ready for practices to make updates. When calling an Essilor lab earlier to update our information, I was pleased to hear that they had already formulated a form for the customer service rep to fill out over the phone. I had our address updated to my personal address, so I may receive shipments daily, then take them to the office myself, so we avoid running the risk of missing UPS during our limited and varying hours. Also keep in mind that the labs may need to contact you regarding jobs currently on order. It may be wise, if you are able, to provide them with a personal cell phone number to call if they have questions. That way, you don’t risk any confusion based on lack of contact.

Independent practices, especially, are likely to take a great financial hit due to this epidemic. For the sake of flattening the curve, think about the effect your interaction with patients may have on others in your community. By reducing the risk of infection, you can help save the lives of those around you, thus shortening both the physical and economic effects this may have on people in your community.


Mary Hollis Stuck

Mary Hollis has been in the optical field since 2005. She has filled many roles within optometric practices and is a billing guru. She is passionate about providing excellent customer service for patients, which she helps to achieve while finding ways to increase practice productivity. Currently, Mary Hollis manages the billing department at Eye Associates of Cayce, a multi-doctor private practice in Cayce, South Carolina.

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