Optometrists and other eyecare practitioners nationwide seem ready to interact with patients on a personal basis again, according to the 7th wave of Jobson’s weekly Coronavirus ECP Survey, conducted April 24 to 27. Almost 58% of respondents are now working on a written plan for reopening their practice, compared with only 31.4% who were doing so at the beginning of the month. Many continue rescheduling appointments for either May or June. Recently, ECPs have come to terms with opening on a limited schedule being the most realistic way forward, with 33.8% said they anticipate doing so in Wave 7, compared with 25.6% in the 6th wave.

The latest survey cut to the chase and asked practice owners how many more weeks they thought their business could survive with their doors shuttered. Most respondents believed they could tough it out for one or two more months (34.3%), while 30.2% could only plausibly do another three or four weeks. The survey also asked how soon they would expect to be up and running after being allowed to reopen. A resounding 41.2% answered immediately, with 29.9% saying they would open within a week. Practices with corporate backing have been able to draw upon those resources to prep their reopenings even quicker; the MyEyeDr network recently announced that it's ready to bring 60 practices back into service.

Safety First

Despite a restlessness to get things back in motion, EC Ps understand resuming business inherently means conducting it as safely as possible for themselves and their patients. The 7th Wave survey continued to ask respondents what changes they will implement upon returning to routine in-person care. Reducing the number of people in the office at the same time (87.1%) and changing sanitization processes (85.4%) remain a priority, as does screening patients for COVID-19 exposure (83.9%).

The recent survey also asked practitioners what personal protective equipment (PPE) they will implement and maintain for themselves and their colleagues. While the majority of respondents believe they will require all staff members (optician/dispensers, techs, reception) to wear masks and gloves in some capacity, they also intend for doctors to wear masks, gloves, face shields, gowns and goggles. For visiting patients, many practice owners believe they will only require them to wear masks.

Other patient safety precautions that practices plan to implement include installing slit lamp breath shields and asking contact lens patients to insert their lenses themselves. Disinfecting counters and mirrors as well as cleaning frames after patients try them on will help protect dispensary areas. When asked the most appropriate resource for new guidelines and sanitation protocols, 41.9% answered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 24.9% answered the American Optometric Association (AOA).

While ECPs have definitely started work on opening their practices, their plans to travel for conferences and meetings remain uncertain. Respondents to the most recent survey believe that travel both within driving and flying distance will occur most likely sometime in 2021 (31.7% and 38%, respectively).

The full 7th Wave report can be downloaded here. Next week, look for the findings of an eighth report to be shared in the Review News Feed and at Vision Monday.