Optometry Podcast: Path to a Healthy Practice with Dr. Millicent Knight

This Podcast is in Partnership with Essilor

As many of us reopen our practices, we’re facing a new reality about how prepared our businesses were for unexpected challenges. How can we recover quickly and prepare for a stronger future? This podcast with guest, Dr. Millicent Knight, is focused on more than just a short term recovery – it’s time for doctors across the country to create a game plan for long term practice health. We’re sharing strategies for achieving your goals on this podcast.

Early in the episode, Dr. Glover reflects that he is wearing many hats right now in his optometric practice, performing all of his own workups and helping out in optical even more than usual as the office slowly brings staff back on board. Dr. Knight shares that like many working women and mothers, her new reality is a delicate balance of her responsibilities as the Senior Vice President of Customer Development at Essilor as well as serving as a homeschool teacher and a short-order cook with the impact of COVID-19. 

Dr. Millicent Knight

While the stress of these new responsibilities can be difficult, Dr. Knight encourages doctors to embrace possibilities and a time to reflect on what their practice is bringing to both their personal life and their community. “Out of this daunting situation is the opportunity to do better and to be better. It’s almost a reset opportunity.” COVID-19 gives doctors the chance to rethink their practice and ask the tough question: are they meeting their mission in serving patients in their community? Are they leveraging the opportunities to make their practice successful both clinically and financially? 

Along with her team at Essilor, Dr. Knight has authored the Healthy Practice Guidelines, available at essilorpro.com/COVID-19. These guidelines include five tips to re-energizing your practice:

Tip #1: Choosing Your Partners

“You can be the best clinician in the world, but if your office is closed because it’s not financially sound, it’s a disservice to everyone – you, your staff and your entire community,” Dr. Knight explains. Finding a personal banker, a lawyer, an HR specialist, and expert partners to work with you on the parts of your business that are not your forte is critical to long-term success and reduced stress. “During a crisis, it’s not the time to be looking for a relationship with a bank. This is not the time for transactional relationships. It’s the time for true partnerships.” 

Before entering industry, Dr. Knight owned a private practice for 20 years in Evanston, Illinois. She shares that in 2008 she took a hard look at her business and she decided to expand her office footprint and rethink many of her patient care services, including expanding her medical eyecare and prescribing optical solutions from the exam chair. “You’re only doing half the job if you don’t recommend an optical solution to address their ocular strain and fatigue.” She enjoyed partnering with Vision Source at that time to have access to a community of people that were business minded right at her finger tips. The relationship helped examine metrics and learn to understand parts of her business that were working and those that weren’t, as well as helping with making decisions on bringing in new technology to her practice. 

She encourages doctors to shore up their knowledge base with courses available through CE vendors. ECPU is a great place to get training on areas like optical and business management that are outside of traditional curriculum.

Essilor as a partner has taken it upon themselves to do the research about the potential exposure risks and to develop a step by step protocol to safely performing patient care during the time of an epidemic. They have also developed protocols for how Essilor representatives can serve your office effectively without being disruptive to patient care, including ensuring that representatives bring their own PPE with them – rather than taking from your practice’s important supply.

Tip #2: Stay Financially Sound Through the Crisis

Managing finances is critical to surviving this crisis and any other unexpected hurdles we may face as business owners down the road. Dr. Knight encourages optometrists to leverage resources from the AOA and their state optometric associations for available government programs, loans, and deferments. Evaluating how to allocate money received from programs like the PPP loan can sometimes require the help of lawyers or financial advisors. She encourages doctors to think carefully about bringing back staff at full capacity when patient capacity is reduced and to develop a strategy for reopening that doesn’t put them right back into financial distress a month or two later. 

Because ECPs will be seeing fewer patients with new safety protocols in place, making the most of every patient encounter is that much more important. Dr. Knight encourages doctors to make sure they educate about common lifestyle issues that patients might not verbalize or realize are associated with their eyes. Headaches are a common example. Prescribing for ocular strain, computer fatigue, and sensitivity to lights or glare is an important way for ECPs to equate the products in their optical to solving the problems discussed during a comprehensive exam.

Tip # 3: Prepare your Office and Staff for Patient Return

When reopening your practice, safety for yourself, your staff, and your patients is critical. As an industry partner, Dr. Knight’s team has worked diligently on reopening guidelines for safety protocols that doctors can use to reopen their practices, to take the burden of research off of optometrists. 

“The most important thing you can do for your practice is to take care of yourself. If you’re not healthy, that can make the difference between your practice surviving or not. That means resting, eating good, healthy meals, and exercising. You need to set the example for your staff.” Dr. Knight recommends having healthy snacks available in the break room for your office and to make sure your staff knows you want them to have healthy stress levels and a healthy work environment. Having team huddles at the beginning of the day to talk through any issues from the day before and prepare for the day’s patients or challenges can make a big difference. 

Many doctors who have returned to patient care are already frustrated by the hurdles of performing exams with masks and PPE that cause fogging in equipment and difficulty performing routine procedures. She encourages doctors to prepare for the reality that PPE is here to stay for a long time; keeping protocols for safety in place is so important because many COVID-19 positive patients are completely asymptomatic. Ensuring that PPE is worn correctly is important to reduce self-contamination from incorrectly donning or doffing your protection.

Tip #4: Communicate with Patients

She encourages doctors to communicate with their patients about the precautions the office is taking for patient safety before they come into the office. “You need to let them know about new protocols and any new hours so that they are not taken aback and they are ready to have that new experience in your office.  Having a staff member dedicated to discussing this with patients and personally confirming each appointment is important. With reduced patient numbers being scheduled, you can’t afford to have no shows!”

Tip #5: Plan for the Future

If you didn’t have an emergency fund before this crisis, we can all appreciate the importance of having one now. Dr. Knight encourages doctors to have access to emergency funds to cover 3-6 months of expenses. “You need to either have good credit, or a good amount of cash. Preferably both, but you’ve got to have one or the other. If nothing else, we’ve learned from this situation that you have to have a personal banker, a line of credit, and access to capital. The time to do that is now, not when you need it. Now.” 

She encourages doctors to continue to be agile and adapt their practice as needed to put their practice in a position to succeed even during difficult and unexpected times. Essilor is developing several program set to launch over the summer to help doctors recover. “We want to help you jump start your practices and generate revenue quickly,” she says.  “We have some great programs this summer to help you sell multiple pairs, and our Smartbook™ technology to help patients schedule appointments at your office with an online platform that is available when it is convenient for them.” If a patient remembers at 1 AM that they need to make that eye exam appointment, they can schedule then and there instead of calling in to your office the next morning. 

Be sure to head to essilorpro.com/COVID-19 for more great resources and advice for building a brighter future for your practice!