Coronavirus: on the ground in Birmingham
Independent prescribing optometrist Don Williams explains how his unique business model is well-suited to adapting to the demands of the pandemic
Prior to the lockdown on the 23 March, my practice saw a surge in footfall. When lockdown was officially announced, most of my patients cancelled.
Two weeks after this 'drought’ I received many calls from the general public seeking private eye care. The medical building that harbours my practice cancelled all their clinics other than mine. Private GPs, psychiatrists, orthopaedic specialists and orthodontists all decided to stop seeing patients. This left only me in the building.
Little did I know that this 'loneliness' would in itself be an attraction to many patients as they had no contact with anyone else other than myself. This provided my patients with confidence. As a private practice, all my patients are booked hourly. To deal with the volume of patients during lockdown, I started seeing patients from 6:30am to 9:00pm every day.
As an optometrist, IP gives me a sense of completeness
The cases I was seeing varied from simple foreign body removal to dealing and managing more complex conditions such as uveitis, acute angle closure, steroid-induced glaucoma, flashes and floaters and central serous retinal vein occlusion.
The NHS hospitals were running at very reduced capacity and all private hospitals were taken over by the NHS at the time of lockdown. That created a backlog of patients that were in need of eye care. I remained the only private eye specialist clinic offering eye care in Birmingham and that resulted in a sudden surge of private patients seeking eye care.
My practice is a diagnostic room within a private building in the medical quarter of Edgbaston Village, Birmingham. The practice is non-retail, non-GOS and non-High Street. I sell a service and my expertise rather than try to compete by selling glasses.
My model of practice is well-placed to fit the current situation. That became very evident during lockdown to the point where I started building a short waiting list which is not ideal when offering private care. This trend continues to this day due to the NHS backlog and the fact that all the other private ophthalmic centres are operating at reduced capacity.
I enrolled on independent prescribing training in 2018 and qualified a year later in April 2019. Having a formal qualification is always very rewarding and it gives you the independence of issuing and signing your own prescription. From a business point of view, IP for me has been financially very beneficial. It gives you the freedom to fully manage your patients and for my business model this aspect of care is vital.
As an optometrist, IP gives me a sense of completeness. For me, prescribing has formed a large part of my daily role. This was the case pre-COVID and during COVID. Post-COVID – if such a thing exists – IP will become more of a necessity than ever because of the backlog of patients created by the pandemic.