ProVision and Eyecare Plus have stepped up efforts to support members during the COVID-19 crisis. With some practices temporarily closed or working to reduced operating hours, both groups are encouraging practice owners and practitioners to take the opportunity to pursue additional learning and strategic planning.
Significant changes at the group’s head offices, including reduced working hours and a 50% pay cut at ProVision, have been implemented to ensure survival.
Steven Johnston, Chief Executive Officer at ProVision, described a roller-coaster of operating conditions for practices over the past few months which has led to a downgrade in performance projections for the year.
Consider what you can do to ensure your business is ready for the other side of this pandemic
“While a number of ProVision practices voluntarily closed at various times during March, those who elected to remain open actually enjoyed relatively good trading,” Mr Johnston explained. “We would deduce that this was possibly because clients were ensuring that they would have good vision correction in the event that COVID-19 restrictions meant they would not be able to access their optometrist for an extended period.
“This all changed in April and the lead up to Easter reflected decidedly slower trading as patients stayed home unless it was an emergency.”
Mr Johnston said the impact of COVID-19 was particularly disappointing given that ProVision had been on track for a record financial year.
“We’ve had our highest level of membership, our highest ever purchases (our biggest ever month was in February) and like for like member sales were growing at around 5% after eight months, so we are particularly disappointed with what has transpired,” he said.
To protect staff from possible virus transmission, ProVision closed its offices effective 30 March.
“Working from home has been a major change for some of our team, but for our nine business coaches it has been business as usual as they have always worked this way. We now stay in touch via Zoom, teleconference or Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp,” said Mr Johnston.
A further, more significant, change was made on 1 April when ProVision took the hard decision to reduce working hours and pay by 50%.
“We wanted to ensure that ProVision is financially able to ride out this storm and be here for members when the restrictions are lifted,” said Mr Johnston. “The JobKeeper payment will be very much appreciated when it kicks in.”
Eyecare Plus Practices During COVID-19
Announcement of the JobKeeper payment was also welcome relief for Eyecare Plus, where General Manager Simon Lewis says practices have handled the COVID-19 situation in different ways.
“Some have temporarily closed for various reasons, including to protect staff or for staff family issues, while others have reduced their opening hours to meet the slowing demand of patients. Other practices have remained open across full trading hours.”
Mr Lewis said the initial concern for Eyecare Plus’ National Office was to help members step up infection control and physical distancing. Concerns then turned to staffing and rent.
“As the government had not directed optometry practices to close, it was not an option to stand down staff even though turnover was dwindling. This made it important to consult with staff about options for taking leave and keeping records of the communication. The announcement of the JobKeeper payment was reassuring for employees and employers. Then practice owners had to make sense of the government announcement about the range of measures to provide relief for commercial tenants, which differed in each state,” Mr Lewis said.
To support members, Eyecare Plus National Office increased communication, updating them on resources available, changing policies and strategic partner announcements. Regular emails from Mr Lewis have provided details on industry changes, Australian Government, Fair Work and Australian Taxation Office announcements. The member Facebook group has also been used to boost communication.
“Our support has also extended to marketing with Marketing Plus, providing free email and SMS messaging to our members’ and patients to update them on the essential services offered, hygiene practices and/or changes in opening hours. A range of social media assets with captions were produced for members to share on their Facebook or Instagram pages. Marketing Plus also produced practice posters, radio scripts, doctor letters/emails, message for telephones on hold, recall inserts and distributed a telephone triage form.”
Eyecare Plus National Office has moved quickly to offer optical dispensers the opportunity to participate in an online Optical Essentials Program presented by the Australasian College of Optical Dispensing.
Additionally, training as well as webinars on human resources and leasing has been provided for practice owners. One-on-one webinars with members has enabled targeted discussions about business and marketing during the downturn and for when the business is able to see all patients again. There are more webinars planned on various topics, all aimed at rapid recovery planning.
Mr Lewis said despite the challenges, practices owners have displayed enormous resilience. “Practice owners have had to have great flexibility to evolve to accommodate this fluid situation. As people everywhere seek to understand this changing landscape, it has been great to see the Eyecare Plus community come together to share ideas and support each other.”
Advice for Practitioners
Steve Johnston offered three important suggestions for practices owners right now:
- Make sure you stay connected with your teams, even if they are not physically at the practice. To do this, we are using a variety of different platforms to communicate. It is vital that your team knows what your plans are and that you give them an opportunity to contribute.
- Consider what you can do to ensure your business is ready for the other side of this pandemic. This is a great opportunity to fix the things that you know you could do better.
- Make sure your team can still engage in meaningful work. For example we have just identified 30 projects that we can work on while ‘business as usual’ is anything but usual! We can only watch Netflix and Foxtel for so long before we go crazy… meaningful work will be a positive contributor to our mental health.