As we head into April with nothing but essential services still running, weekly practitioner surveys are helping us track how optometry is rolling with the punches. In addition to providing ongoing care for patients, both routine and urgent, optometry is finding ways to balance the business side of its practice through telehealth technologies and other resources, according to the 5th wave of Jobson’s ECP Coronavirus Survey (April 7 to 9). Data shows optometrists are navigating these choppy waters both clinically and fiscally with more engagement between ODs and technology than in previous weeks and a wider use of government assistance.
Patient Care During the PandemicYou can hear more about how your optometric colleagues are handling in-person and virtual care in our recent online exclusive, "Patient Care Morphs Amid COVID-19." For more COVID-19 news, check out our comprehensive coverage here.
In The Clinic
In this most recent survey, 86.1% of optometrists polled say they’re offering remote medical examinations. The survey shows 81.1% are engaged in phone-based consultations (up from 78.9% in the previous wave), 78.6% are employing video-based consultations (up from 74.3%) and 19.4% are relying on mobile apps (also up, from 18.1%). While 30.9% still say they’re struggling with work-from-home technology for doctors and staff, that number has decreased from its peak two weeks ago of 36.2%.
Clearly, the word about telemedicine is out and more patients are seeking this form of care. The survey found 38.7% of respondents say their patients have expressed interest in obtaining telehealth services from their optometrist. That’s a modest increase from 36.2% in the previous wave (March 28 to 30) and from the first survey (March 13 to 17) when it was only 17.3%.
One area where growth has been slow is telerefractions, which are only being offered by 1.8% of respondents.
Practitioners are becoming more comfortable billing for their telehealth services too, with 56.1% now saying they’ve done so over the last two weeks. That number has more than doubled from the 26% two weeks ago. The percentage of practitioners who have not billed for telehealth over the last two weeks has dropped dramatically from 74% in the 3rd wave to only 43.9% in the 5th wave. Only 29.1% in the most recent survey reported needing help with understanding billing for telemedicine, a reduction from the 3rd wave result of 32.4%.
In the Office
Many optometrists aren’t only clinicians, they’re also practice owners—60% of respondents in the 5th wave are owners or at least decision-makers in their practice. The survey shows that ODs are on the hunt for available business resources and information regarding how they can operate under this new reality for now, and even how to safely restart their in-person practices.
The current survey shows 64.8% are already looking for information to help them re-open, an increase from 48.2% only a few weeks ago. In fact, 31.4% are already working on written plans for their grand re-opening in a post-COVID world.
Meanwhile, optometrists appear to be absorbing information about their financial options. When asked what financial tools would help them now, 43.8% said “understanding unemployment resources” in the 5th wave of the survey. That’s down from the 4th wave when 54.9% sought unemployment information. The current survey shows 31.1% of employed and furloughed ODs have already filed for unemployment.
They seem to be grasping information on small business loans too, as 40.9% reported needing help with it compared with 54.6% of 4th wave respondents. Only 7.6% reported needing help with understanding student loan deferment when a couple of weeks ago it was as high as 15%.
Clearly, not all business is continuing as usual, and optometry is finding ways to negotiate with business partners to stay afloat. Two weeks ago, 45.1% of survey respondents were seeking help negotiating suppliers as well as landlords, but that number has now dropped to 37.3%. That may be, in part, because industry suppliers are offering more lenient payment term, which 65.6% of respondents report receiving.
Previously, more than a quarter were looking for advice on how to talk to staff about downsizing and layoffs, but now that’s dropped to 18.3%, which may indicate fewer staff are being let go.
The US Senate’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an enormous relief package looking to make an estimated $153.5 billion available to the public health sector, another $377 billion to small businesses and $500 billion to large corporations.1 Depending on the practice, optometry may fall into any of those three categories, and 49.6% of those surveyed say they’ve already applied for the CARES Act’s benefits, with 37.9% reporting that they will receive benefits. A little over half of survey respondents still aren’t sure whether they will qualify for aid from the CARES Act.
In the downtime, optometrists report busying themselves by attending online CE webinars (61.8%), deep-cleaning their offices (51.3%) and engaging in various other organizational tasks (61.7%).
As of April 9, 99.3% of respondents have not been personally tested for the novel coronavirus. Only 4.6% report having been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
|1. Snell K. What's inside the senate's $2 trillion coronavirus aid package. National Public Radio. www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package. March 26, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2020.|