During this unprecedented time with COVID-19, Columbus Ophthalmology Associates is proud to be a leader in our community. As a practice, we take safety and excellence in eye care seriously. We recently sat down with COA President, Dr. Robert Derick, to talk to him about COA’s newest safety measures and what phase 2 of reopening entails.
An Interview with Dr. Derick
Dr. Derick, this recent “Stay at Home” order has affected health care in ways few people understand. How has the shutdown affected your patients? Specifically, are you seeing issues that are a result of delayed treatment?
Even though we were open during the 5-week shutdown and saw emergency patients, we definitely have seen patients who have put off treatments that are potentially vision-threatening—specifically delaying glaucoma and retina surgery that has resulted in significant vision loss.
You opened in a slow but deliberate manner to allow your staff, doctors, and patients time to get used to this new way of providing care. What have you learned from this method that has allowed you to set the bar high for other practices?
We put our patients’ and staff members’ safety as our top priorities. That allowed us to develop protocols that were consistent with those goals. Our Academy of Ophthalmology and the CDC were good resources, and our staff was instrumental in putting in place the new manner that we are able to safely treat our patients. We intentionally started with a reduced schedule to make sure our protocols were working, adjusted staffing as we slowly increased patient numbers and tweaked our clinic flow. One example of the tweaking was to have a patient stay in one exam room as much as possible. This reduced patients in our waiting area.
What specific changes have you made to ensure the safety of the staff and patients?
Patients are asked to wear masks and not have visitors with them unless they need assistance. We screen patients on arrival with both a questionnaire as well as a temperature check. All of our staff also have a daily temperature check. There are shields in place where there is close patient contact. We are meticulous in wiping down surfaces and encouraging both patients and staff to frequently wash their hands and use sanitizer.
How have your first few weeks of surgery gone? Are you now ready to increase the number of procedures and patients you can care for?
We continue to learn better ways to make our clinic efficient and safe, however, we have found that the time we took to thoughtfully develop the protocols prior to reopening has made our return very uneventful and smooth. Surgery has been uneventful, and we are now back to normal flow.
What changes have been made to your optical department, something that is especially important to your elderly population who love the convenience of having all their eye care needs met in one location?
Similar to the clinic, every surface is wiped down frequently, and every frame that is touched gets sanitized.
What percentage of patients have continued to postpone surgery just due to the fact they are uneasy being out in public yet?
I would estimate a small number—perhaps 5%—and we make every effort to reschedule them at their convenience.
What would you tell them to help them be more comfortable coming into the clinic or the surgery center?
We have received excellent feedback from the patients that have come in about the professional manner in which our staff members conduct themselves. Patients can see the emphasis on safety that we place on our entire clinic. I feel that the patients can help share with their friends and contacts on their comfort level. In short, I would tell patients who are hesitant that we are making every effort to ensure their safety, and so far, the experience at COA has been excellent.
Have you talked to other practices on how they are dealing with this reopening?
We are fortunate to be a leader in the community and also have great relationships with most practices in town. As a result of these relationships, we have been in contact with other practices throughout the shutdown as well as during the reopening. It is reassuring to know that almost all of the protocols that we have instituted are being used throughout the city.
Your initial effort was to get patients who had surgery canceled back in for their procedures. Now that you have accomplished that, what will phase two be about?
Most of our optometric colleagues have opened their practices, and as they get busier, our referrals will naturally increase. We are also seeing many patients we had to reschedule during the shutdown in addition to patients that were already on the schedule. Phase 2 will be to slowly reduce the backlog of people that need our help to restore their vision.