Caring for Patients in Uncertain Times

In this segment of “From the Lane” we wanted to focus on a pertinent topic in today’s world -   how optometrists are continuing to care for patients and offer them valuable information in these uncertain times.

We’re excited to offer a perspective from Dr. Maria Sampalis on how she is taking care of her patients during this disruption.

Dr. Sampalis has over 12 years of practice experience in both private and corporate optometry settings, and currently practices at ForEyes in Cranston, Rhode Island.

During the past two weeks, what have been the most common questions or concerns from your contact lens patients?  

We tried to be very proactive in our patient communications as we saw this coming. A week and a half before we closed, we sent an e-blast to our patients on coronavirus and information on proper contact lens and spectacles hygiene. We made sure to inform patients ahead of time that the practice was closing and moved up those patients with critical eye care needs prior to having to shut our practice.

Taking the decision to shut down the practice voluntarily was a difficult one, but I believe it was the right decision for the long-term health of our patients, our staff, and our families.

Are your patients still able to reach out to you if needed?

Due to my EHR system, I’m able to have my practice phone calls transferred to my personal cell phone while the office is shut down.  I’m also still able to take emergency cases if needed. I’m also able to do phone screening for more routine things, such as, red eyes, itchiness, etc.  For my contact lens patients, I’m enabling Rx extension while the practice is closed so they can still order a monthly supply of lenses until we’re able to re-open to offer comprehensive exams again. Due to arrangements with vendors in terms of direct patient shipment there is still the possibility to generate contact lens income and income from frame/lens replacement for those who have a mishap with their glasses. 

Have you been able to engage your staff during the shutdown?

Since I have a smaller practice, I’m directly handling all the patient calls and questions, but certainly larger practices might have a role for staff in this. My staff are currently working on writing web content, blogs, social media posts to prepare for the future when we can re-open. Search engine optimization is also something that needs to be constantly kept on top of, so my staff are helping with that during this down time.

What do you think are important things for ECPs to focus on during these uncertain times?

I think this is an example of how fast things can change in this industry. It might be a good time to look at telemedicine options and learn more about the reimbursement routes for telemedicine appointments during this crisis. I’ve found an EHR system to be invaluable at this time, as I’m able to stay connected to my patients on social media and other channels even if I can’t see them in person.  

I would also recommend learning more about the assistance that is available from different sources. Vendors are trying to help in various ways, whether it is deferred payments, free shipping for smaller quantity order of contact lenses, etc. The government is also stepping in with unemployment assistance.  

There are also a lot of resources being offered by the state optometry associations. It’s a great idea to look at your state OA to see what resources and benefits they can offer during these times. SECO University is bringing a lot of online CE available for more ECPs. Use this time to catch up on your CE. That way when the current crisis ends you can focus on getting your practice back up and running rather than worry about catching up on CE.  

It’s also a good time to remember to take care of ourselves. Although it’s easy to get entrenched in crisis mode, I’m trying to use this time to spend quality time with my kids and exercise.  

Reach out to your fellow optometrists and your professional network. We’re all in this together and we need to support each other.

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