COVID-19’s impact

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Canadian eye care professionals are back to business, but it’s not business as usual.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced clinics and shops to close for months. At least one study completed in Canada by the Ontario Association of Optometrists reported that revenues were down 75 to 80 per cent as clinics were relegated to dealing with customers only on an emergency basis. 

Ryan Horne, owner of SPEX By Ryan in Regina, Sask., says the initial shock of what happened was hard to shake off.

“The time leading up to shutting down March 18 was very slow and ominous,” he says. “Then it all stopped. After 10 days of being closed, I returned behind closed doors to help those in need of repairs and replacements, which provided some income that really helped. The lost revenue was significant.”

Some clinics were in a position to stay open, at least with limited hours.

One of those was St. Clair Eye Clinic in Toronto, owned and operated by Dr. Neel Vyas.

“We made the decision to remain open during the pandemic for urgent care,” says Dr. Vyas.

“We were open two days a week and saw five to 15 patients weekly. There were some regulars, but about half were new because they had nowhere else to turn at the time.”

By the end of March it was clear that this was the new normal for eye care professionals around the world and the only way to survive was to adapt.

Rachel Hill from Personal Optical in St. Catharine’s, Ont., says while her clinic always practiced top-notch hygiene, the new reality made her realize how imperative it was to make the customer feel safe and let them see this process firsthand.

“We make it a priority to explain the new process and what we do to sanitize after the patient leaves,” explains Hill. “Our staff is using their expert listening skills to really learn what the patient needs and educate them on what we have to offer, giving them choices rather than only one option.”

Horne says staff at his Regina clinic have adapted well.

“We are used to the new routine. There is more work involved before opening and after closing, but we have never been so clean but at the end of the day it’s all about sanitation and social distancing.”

At St. Clair Eye Clinic, Dr. Vyas says his clinic is practicing at about 80 per cent capacity to maintain the necessary physical distancing and make customers feel safe about obtaining eye care.

“Patients feel comfortable,” he says. “They see that they can come in and have multiple layers of protection while still receiving the quality service they would expect pre-pandemic.”

Some customers have been really enjoying the extra attention, says Hill.

A new, revised appointment system is allowing customers to sit and relax while they choose new eyewear.

“Our attention is strictly on them as we don’t have other patients interrupting. We take our time, ask appropriate questions to help narrow down their selection and we find patients are focused on buying rather than just browsing,” she says.

“Our office is set up with three stations: Two for ordering and one for pick-ups. All are six feet apart and quite comfortable. We have asked for patient input as we learn through this experience, but everyone has felt very safe.” 

Many healthcare experts predict the world will observe a second wave of COVID-19 cases before Christmas, but unlike the spring, these eye care professionals are ready to continue serving customers through these unprecedented times.

Hill hopes her customers in St. Catharines and beyond will be sure to check her clinic’s website and social media pages for constant updates. She’s also sending her best wishes to colleagues near and far.

“I’m just so sad that this is such a big year for eye care professionals (being 2020),” she says. “And it has been so disappointing. I am missing the shows and interaction with people in the industry.”

In Regina, Horne is resigned to the fact of how we do business now. 

“We are loading up on more hand sanitizer and masks. I feel this is how we do things from now on and that’s life as we now know it.”

Dr. Vyas agrees and remains optimistic about handling future challenges, no matter what 2020 and proceeding years have to throw at us.

“We provided urgent care at the beginning of this thing and we will do it again. I’m just so glad we can still contribute to people’s eye care needs during these tough times.”

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