Flying home from a conference on March 7th, absorbing the latest news about COVID-19, I knew I needed to implement a shutdown strategy upon my return. When we closed on March 21st, we were prepared to continue remote services where possible and stay connected with our patients, including a large number receiving comprehensive dry eye management.
Here are some tips to help you stay connected and serve your dry eye patients during the COVID-19 pandemic:
• Update patients about dry eye procedures and supplies – Before our office closed, we alerted all dry eye patients about the closure date and encouraged them to stock up on the products they would need for the next 3 months. We continued doing scheduled IPL (Optima IPL*, Lumenis) and other procedures until shutdown, even moving up some procedures. I spoke by phone with about a dozen patients who were in the middle of a series of 4 IPL sessions and explained that if the Stay Home – Work Safe order was prolonged, IPL would still be effective, but we might need to add a fifth session. Everyone understood.
• Encourage continued home care – Most of our dry eye patients have individual treatment plans that include a daily hygiene routine for lids/lashes, preservative-free artificial tears, prescription medication and nutritional supplements. In our e-newsletter communications with our patient base, we have included a special section for dry eye patients and emphasized that following their plan will help them to feel better throughout lockdown and maintain their ocular surface health.
• Offer remote services – Prior to the March 21 – April 30 office closure, we set up secure remote EMR access, arranged online credit card processing, transferred office calls, informed our patient base, and moved administrative operations online. During the closure, team members answered calls and emails Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our doctors offered telehealth consultations and provided medical eye emergency care at the office while observing strict disinfection and PPE protocols. We arranged either product shipping or scheduled curb-side dispensing for those patients that needed additional dry eye supplies. Our patients have appreciated the fact that they could reach us easily during the closure and their needs were taken care of in a timely and safe manner.
• Stay visible and positive in social media feeds – Since everyone is at home staring at their devices, we have posted regularly on our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts (@visionoptique). In my own Instagram account (@DrBridgitte), my COVID-19 journal with 200+ stories has been viewed tens of thousands of times. Some of our posts remind patients to continue dry eye home care, as well as explain the dry eye services available after we re-open.
• Focus on what’s next – Our team is building a brand new website to promote our specialty eye care services, including the Dry Eye Center, and our online store for ocular surface and cosmetics products.
It is important that we stay connected with our dry eye patients with clear and compassionate communication throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. When we reopen, the transition will be easier because we have stayed in touch.
Now that AOA has confirmed that the CDC’s March 17 nationwide recommendation to postpone routine eye care is no longer in effect, we are re-opening with safety precautions in place on May 1! For the months of May and June, we have adopted procedures to employ principles of social distancing, limiting gatherings, and infection prevention. For example, only one doctor will see patients each day, we will book one patient per 45 minutes and disinfect between patients, we will use PPE, and the practice will run physical and virtual operations concurrently. We look forward to seeing all of our patients again and resuming management of dry eye disease.
*inflammatory skin conditions such as Rosacea, untreated, can lead to Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. As such, 80% of Rosacea patients are suffering from Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Optima IPL is used to treat Rosacea, which allows to break the inflammatory process that may lead to Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.