My priority

My priority: safety in practice

Katie Memory, managing partner of Memory Opticians in Wiltshire, on prepping patients ahead of appointments and ensuring the safety of her staff across two stores

Memory
Joe Stallard 2019

With practices now open for routine appointments post-lockdown, OT is speaking to practice owners about a singular priority they have for the next few months. If you want to be featured get in touch with [email protected]

What has been quite amazing about this pandemic is how quickly we have been able to respond to something that was so unexpected. Our priorities have shifted somewhat so that ensuring the safety of our patients and our team has been our primary concern both now and during the lockdown.

The process of making the practice safe starts way before the patient walks through our doors. Patients are triaged over the phone, checking that they don’t have symptoms and that their visit is necessary. If it is, we also have a follow up call the day prior to their appointment and conduct information-gathering aspects of the eye exam over the phone to minimise the amount of time that they have in practice.

The process of making the practice safe starts way before the patient walks through our doors

 

Upon entering the practice, we have clear signage on display, which is intended to be welcoming and friendly but, at the same time, has their safety in mind. Having been welcomed to the practice, their temperature is checked and hand sanitiser and a face covering is provided, after which we follow up with the same symptoms questions.

During the exam

During the eye exam, the optometrist wears full personal protective equipment (PPE). We have invested in alternative equipment to prioritise avoiding any close contact. The OCT has also been really helpful; in fact, I don’t know what we would have done without it. From a clinical perspective, it’s just come into its own.

A new process for dispensing

During dispensing, we have a remote virtual dispensing tool that we use that does all the measurements; all the patient does is look in a mirror and the measurements go straight through to the PC. That has also been a really useful piece of equipment; anything that minimises contact really has been indispensable. We also now have a new procedure whereby every frame is not put back onto display until it has been disinfected, and we have several different methods of disinfection, from the usual set of disinfection wipes through to a UVC box.

Challenges and surprises

There are challenges, of course, particularly around PPE. There were issues in procuring some at the start, but we’ve also found that patients’ face masks can be of questionable quality, so steam up while wearing trial lenses, which makes eye exams trickier. Face masks also make it much more difficult to communicate with patients, especially if some are hard of hearing. But we are constantly reviewing and refining our patient journey to make it as pleasant as possible, always following the guidance. If any new changes come in the next few months, I think we’re in a good place to react to them again.
One thing that we have been pleasantly surprised by is how much a patient really appreciates the much time and effort we have put into making them safe. By all the different methods of communicating our measures, such as email broadcasts, social media and local press coverage, as well as demonstrating it when they have come in, they seem to have been very appreciative. It has been a pleasure to be able to show what we have done for them.

Supporting staff

As for our team members, prior to them even returning to work, we spoke to each of them over the phone, where we explained exactly what they are coming back to, what measures we have put in place and how we intend to protect them and the patients. They each gained certifications for partaking in PPE training, along with training on social distancing and sanitisation in practice, which they implement every single day with the help of a start and end of day checklist.

We are constantly reviewing and refining our patient journey to make it as pleasant as possible… if any new changes come in the next few months, I think we’re in a good place to react

 

As far as the staff are concerned, it is not just their physical health and safety that we have been concerned about, it has also been their mental health. Of course, you need support to be able to assist with this. What I would say to any practitioner who is struggling is that there is so much support out there from trusted sources, such as the AOP, ABDO, the College of Optometrists, or your local LOC. We are extremely lucky to have the backing and support of the Hakim Group, especially from the emotional point of view with the Stronger Together wellbeing webinars. It’s been brilliant to have that foundation behind us.

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