My Priority: Ensuring patient and staff comfort

Alison Harwood, co-owner of Optika Opticians in Weston-super-Mare, on creating a COVID-safe environment that works for staff as well as patients

Staff wearing masks

As practices continue to operate with social distancing and other safety measures in place, 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] 

For business owners, 2020 can be defined as a year of celebration but also of unparalleled challenge.

At the start of the year, my husband and co-owner, James, and I took the plunge and joined the Hakim Group in what was our 15th year of business, which we marked with a Valentine’s Day celebration. Not only that, in March we merged with Conway Opticians, a fellow independent optician in Weston, and it seemed like that would be the height of our challenges for the year. But that was before COVID-19 hit.

Locking down

It’s fair to say lockdown stopped us in our tracks, but after months of providing emergency care it was time to reassess as routine appointments began to restart. We pride ourselves on customer service at Optika Opticians and, at a time like this, our priority has definitely been making them feel comfortable. I think that's why we've got such a loyal customer base, because they know that they're going to come in and see the same friendly faces, and we're going to take the time to look after them. In that sense, it’s clear that we joined the Hakim Group at just the right time.

Alison Harwood, co-owner of Optika Opticians in Weston-super-Mare

It's been amazing since we joined, from the support from Hakim Group HQ (HGHQ) during the merger to the transition over to Optix. Looking back now to when COVID-19 first hit, I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t been a part of the Hakim Group. From our regular webinars with HGHQ, which were so helpful at the time, we were encouraged to stay open as well as offer remote consultations. I think we would have really struggled without the Hakim Group, and just having all of that help and advice on hand was amazing.

Creating a comfortable environment

That support has also lent itself to being able to create a more welcoming environment in practice. We have been provided marketing images that we used on social media to communicate that we were still open, as well as the measures we were taking in practice to reassure patients that they would be taken care of. The assets we’ve been provided for the practice interior have been really warm and friendly, such as floor stickers reminding patients of social distancing, rather than imposing signs. We’ve also installed some rainbow poppers that ask patients to not touch the frames. It adds to the experience as a comfortable place to receive eye care, as everything they see is bright and friendly.

It’s our responsibility as a practice team to implement the new measures to create a comfortable environment


But we can’t just rely on the marketing assets. It’s our responsibility as a practice team to implement the new measures to create a comfortable environment. We still have a locked door policy in place and we’ve also made a distinct effort to book in shielding or vulnerable patients for the beginning or end of the day, so there is less chance of them interacting with other patients. We are also checking everybody's temperatures when they come in and then making sure that we check all the staff as well each morning. The waiting area has been made very sparse, and we are very committed to constantly cleaning and sanitising the practice, which I think has been well received by our client base.

Adapting to patient need

But for all the reassurance we’ve provided, there are handful of patients who have been very reluctant to come into practice. However, we’ve come to realise that even those we can’t see in person should be made to feel just as comfortable as the rest, and there are many ways you can try to offer them equally excellent care. Lockdown showed us the power of remote consultations, especially over the phone, and it allowed us to maintain our care to those who were shielding and who required regular check-ups, such as contact lens patients.

Ensuring a safe return

It was no less crucial that we guaranteed our staff had the confidence that it was safe for them to come back as we gradually eased them off furlough. A lot of work was done through lockdown to keep in touch with them on our team WhatsApp group, as I didn’t want them to not hear from us from March until we came back. We would also send them pictures of us wearing our PPE in practice, to try and make it all a bit more realistic for them.

As owners of a business, you have a responsibility to ensure everyone who enters your practice, whether that be staff or patients, are at ease at all times


When we started to get ready to fully reopen, I made a little video for them explaining the new patient journey so it wasn’t all brand new, because it was a very different practice to the one they left three or four months prior. It helped to reassure them that we had put plans in place to not only protect the patients, but our own people as well.

I think it’s part of the job description, as owners of a business, that you have a responsibility to ensure everyone who enters your practice, whether that be staff or patients, are at ease at all times. It’s always something that should be at the forefront of your mind, but I feel the pandemic has reaffirmed our beliefs on just how vital that can be to everyone’s happiness and to the future prosperity of the business as a whole.