Why some practices are reporting higher revenues in 2020
The impact of COVID-19 on doctors’ income has been significant. According to the most recent Medscape Physician Compensation Report, practices saw an average 55 percent decrease in revenue and a 60 percent drop in patient volume since the beginning of the crisis. Medscape also reported that specialties that rely on elective procedures, including ophthalmology and otolaryngology, saw the largest amount of lost business.
If you’ve reopened or have resumed regular appointments, you may be faced with a backlog of patients, or you may find patients are reluctant to come back in. In a recent post we covered How to Reassure and Re-engage Older Patients. But practices that are rebounding now say they’re seeing demand from different types of patients—including younger demographics. Read on to find out why some practices are seeing higher profits already in 2020 than they did a year ago, and what they’re doing to maintain patient volume after handling the current backlog.
Differentiate your practice to LASIK patients
Some eye doctors are seeing an increased demand for laser refractive surgery right now, said Arthur Cummings, medical director of the Wellington Eye Clinic in Dublin, Ireland, who chaired and moderated a June 26 refractive recovery and COVID-19 roundtable discussion.
“That helps us because these patients are self-payers and younger,” and therefore less at risk for COVID-19, he said. “We’ve found that the older patients are happy to wait three months and so they’re going to the back of the queue. We’re bringing in younger patients earlier and that seems to be working well and helping our cash flow.”
Other eye care practitioners who participated in the discussion confirmed that they are also seeing more demand from patients seeking a better quality of life and solutions to vision issues. For instance, LASIK is a great option so your glasses aren’t fogging up when you wear a face mask.
“We’re looking at this post-COVID environment as an opportunity to differentiate ourselves from competitors,” said Denise Visco, M.D., an ocular surgeon in York, Pa. “We have used telehealth to step up our game.”
A higher level of service through telehealth, evening hours, and prescription delivery helped one practice boost LASIK, SMILE, and PRK business despite COVID-19 compared to the same time last year.
To accommodate younger patients who want laser vision correction but may have erratic work schedules, her practice brings them in for a slit lamp exam with an optometrist. The exam is recorded and shared with the surgeon, who reviews it and has a telehealth visit with the patient to discuss their options, perhaps in the evening after work, Dr. Visco said. They will also have patients’ prescriptions delivered to their homes if needed.
This higher level of service is what differentiates the practice—a strategy that “has been working quite well,” she said. “We’ve seen our numbers for LASIK, SMILE, and PRK are all up this year compared to the same time last year.”
For more info on virtual visits, see Dr. Paul Karpecki’s recent post, Rethinking Telemedicine.
What’s driving higher conversions in cataract surgery
Despite eye doctors’ fears to the contrary, conversions to premium IOLs are also on the rise during COVID-19. “I was concerned about the economy and that patients would all be doing single-focus manual,” said Maria Scott, M.D., a cataract surgeon in Annapolis, Md. In fact, her conversions to multifocal lenses are better than any other year. “I guess patients aren’t going on their cruises so they’ve reassessed what’s important in life, and luckily have decided that their eyes and their lifestyle are important.”
‘This pandemic has put a new perspective on things for people. When you’ve got the opportunity to have visual freedom, why not take it?’ – Sheraz Daya, M.D.
Sheraz Daya, M.D., founder and chairman of Centre for Sight in London, U.K., echoed Dr. Scott’s perspective. “This pandemic has put a new perspective on things for people. They want to live life. And when you’ve got the opportunity to have visual freedom, well, why not take it?”
Dr. Daya added that his practice is being proactive about asking current patients for reviews and testimonials in an effort to convince other patients who may be fearful or uncertain in our current climate. “We asked one of our patients, why do you want to have this surgery now? And his comment was, ‘Life is short.’”
Ben LaHood, M.D., a refractive, cataract, and laser vision correction surgeon in private practice in Auckland, New Zealand, shared encouraging news from his country, which has all but eradicated the virus. “In the last month, we’ve got back to practically 100 percent normal elective cataract and refractive surgery,” he reported.
Keeping patients happy—and keeping the self-pay/elective-surgery patients coming back—has mainly been a matter of communicating about safety to patients and referring providers, he said. His practice has been “putting out video clips on Facebook, using social media to let the community know about our stepped-up PPE, our hand washing, just letting them know that it’s safe to return.”
Leverage the newest Rendia content to share your safety protocols with patients. Check out Timely Videos to Share with Patients Now.
Reach out to contact lens patients
Many of the practices that are bouncing back the quickest are those that pivoted to offering online services—especially popular with younger patients. An estimated 45 million people in the U.S. wear contact lenses, and the average age of contact lens wearers worldwide is 31, according to CDC data.
To keep these patients from being lured by low prices and convenience to buy from online contact lens retailers, practices must be proactive about offering and promoting their services. Patients may be uncertain how to refill their contact lens supplies at this time, or worried about the cost.
On your website, emails, social media, and practice voicemail, tell patients how they can get their contact lenses now—whether that’s online ordering through your office, no-contact curbside pickup, or another solution.
With fears and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and contact lenses, let patients know that regular eye exams by a trained provider are vital to avoid potentially blinding complications.
With fears and misinformation surrounding COVID-19 and contact lenses, it’s also a good time to communicate to patients what you offer as an experienced eye care professional that online retailers do not. Spread the message that regular eye exams by a trained eye doctor are imperative to avoid potentially blinding complications, urged Benjamin P. Casella, O.D., in the Optometry Times.
He gave the example of seeing a 26-year-old patient who thought she had a scratch on her eye but it was really a bacterial ulcer. Dr. Casella wrote, “A frankly bleak sign was the presence of several old round scars on both corneas: evidence of prior insults. She reported noncompliance with her contact lens-wearing schedule.” Encourage contact lens patients to come in for an eye exam, and reassure them of your COVID-19 safety procedures.
For more on this topic, see Don’t Lose Business to Online Contact Lens Retailers.
Strong outlook for 2021
Dr. Visco voiced a positive outlook for the future. “I do feel that 2021 for health care in general and especially for ophthalmology … is going to be strong,” she said. “And the reason is because this is a health care crisis. Even things like Black Lives Matter and all of the racial issues the world is dealing with, all of these things are related to our wellbeing.”
She continued, “What we’re going to see is the things that help us live better lives … that support our health and wellbeing, are the things that are going to help us going forward. They’re going to have greater value going forward than they did prior to COVID.”