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HomemipatientPractice Survival in the Era of COVID-19

Practice Survival in the Era of COVID-19

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact the global community and economy, there are some steps you can take to give your practice its best chance of survival.

The COVID-19 outbreak is first and foremost a massive human tragedy. We are all feeling its effects as citizens of the worldwide community. Even as the spread of COVID-19 slows, it continues to have a devastating impact on the global economy and on businesses like yours and mine.

Although the worst of the crisis is over, following a plan designed to protect your business and mitigate the risks is critical to survival. Here are a few tips to help you do this.

negotiate where possible for extended terms to ensure your business can survive and maintain continuity of supply to patients without interruptions

STEP ONE: PIVOT

Your business needs to continue to pivot to address the evolving challenges, as they present, to your patients, your workforce, and your financial situation.

To do this, you need to be constantly considering the following:

  • How is COVID-19 impacting yourability to see patients and generaterevenue now and is there a safer way to deliver your services?
  • Is there a more effective way to use thetechnology you have under the currentcircumstances?
  • Is there a better way to work with yoursupply chain and your business partners?

Business As Usual? 

It is critical that you continue to take extra precautions to ensure patient and staff safety. Make sure you keep up to date with industry guidelines for personal and practice/equipment hygiene and safety, maintain physical distancing, or use PPE, and display clear messaging in your practice so that patients know how to observe the precautions in place and are reassured that your practice puts their safety first.

Continue to safeguard existing practice revenue and meet patient needs for eye care within an environment that may experience supply chain disruption.

Closing Up for a While? 

If you need to close your practice or reduce opening hours, you’ll need to decide whether you have the financial reserves in place to manage ongoing financial obligations. The best advice from epidemiologists and world health experts, indicates COVID-19 will be a public health issue for several months to come.

Seek advice and professional support from Optometry Australia to guide your HR employment decisions and be across JobKeeper and JobSeeker support in case you need to make tough staff decisions to ensure your economic survival.

The Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia (CCLSA) also has an extensive guide to business survival during these challenging times.

Other Options 

Rather than close down entirely, you may choose to continue to offer your services and products online and via telehealth. Even if you plan to remain open, this could be a viable option to prepare for in the event of a change in regulations around face-to-face patient care.

WORKING WITH YOUR STAFF

As with all things related to business, staff are the cornerstone for survival and success. It is critical, right from the beginning, to ensure your team understands how challenging the financial situation is and your expectations for them in partnering with you to survive. There will be hard decisions on the horizon. You may have to reduce hours or stand some staff down. By leading with an inclusive and open approach, you will harness your team’s support to weather the current pandemic and return to scale in the future.

CARING FOR PATIENTS DURING COVID-19

During the early stages of COVID-19 the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology (RANZCO) advised private ophthalmology practices to reschedule
appointments where appropriate. Elective ophthalmology visits at public hospitals were also indefinitely postponed. As access to primary eyecare became extremely challenging due to
closed doors, we advised our general practitioners and eyecare colleagues that we were open to assist in triaging, assisting in and managing any urgent eyecare needs for patients. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen patients including Glenda,* a 78 year old lady with corneal clouding who developed a full blown corneal graft rejection; Mavi,* who experienced a work related injury which caused acute severe corneal hydrops and Tony,* a Qantas engineer who, as he was stood down, was unfortunate enough to develop an acute microbial keratitis. Had these patients been unable to seek out timely treatment, all three may have developed permanent, irreversible sight loss during this pandemic. With these cases in mind, we hope to keep our practices open for as long as we possibly can. Deciding whether to open or close your practice at this time is a difficult and personal decision, and one I know we have all made to serve our communities as best we can. Please take care and stay safe.
STEP 2: POSTPONE

There’s no doubt that virus related shut-downs are having a domino effect on optometry practices’ revenue. Consider any due payments and planned expenditure that can be postponed to buy you time, and strengthen your practice’s financial resilience over the coming months. If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to negotiate temporary changes to financial terms with your landlords and financiers. Do your research on recent legislative change to protect your rights around evictions and loans, and find out about available government support. Seek expert advice on your best course of action from Optometry Australia and trusted professionals.

While suppliers are also feeling the economic pain, negotiate where possible for extended terms to ensure your business can survive and maintain continuity of supply to patients without interruptions.

STEP 3: PREPARE TO RETURN

Create a detailed strategy to return your optometry business to scale once the domino effects of COVID-19 have calmed down and things become clearer. Consider the various economic and practice scenarios that may lie ahead and plan out how you would navigate your way through them. Having done so, you will be better equipped to make more rational, proactive decisions if and when the time comes.

STEP 4: BE PREPARED FOR A NEW NORMAL

COVID-19 has caused non-incremental, sudden and unprecedented change to every part of the global economy, including optometry. Optometry businesses that are able to understand, then adapt their ways, can survive. However, to do this, we all need to plan and be prepared to pivot as we adjust to what becomes our new normal.

Margaret Lam is currently the National President of the Cornea and Contact Lens Society of Australia and teaches at the School of Optometry at UNSW as an Adjunct Senior Lecturer. She works as the Head of Optometry Services for George and Matilda Eyecare. 

The COVID-19 situation is moving quickly, and all care has been taken to ensure the information in this article is as relevant and timeless as possible. Advice was accurate at the time of print. *Patient names were changed for anonymity. 

INFORMATION AND SUPPORT

For further information about managing the risks of COVID-19 in practice, visit: www.optometry.org.au and www.cclsa.org.au. To find out more about JobKeeper and JobSeeker, visit www.business.gov.au.