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NEW YORK—An overwhelming majority (91.7 percent) of ECPs expect to reopen their practices once the coronavirus pandemic eases and reopening is permissible, but they also expect to space out scheduling, require gloves and masks for employees and establish some patient screening measures, according to the latest Jobson Optical Research ECP Coronavirus Study. The survey of ECPs, which marked the sixth wave of the Jobson Research effort to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the optical profession, was completed during the April 16-19 period last week.

A new question in wave six asked ECPs whether they plan to reopen their practices or “are you more likely to need to close for good?” Only 2.1 percent of respondents said they will “likely need to close for good,” with 91.7 percent planning to reopen their practices and 6.2 percent answered that they are “not sure.”

Among the respondents who plan to reopen, most plan to make some key changes to operations. These include: reducing the amount of people in the office at the same time (80.2 percent), changing sanitation processes (76.1 percent), asking patients if they have had coronavirus, taking body temperatures and/or asking screening questions (74.7 percent), requiring staff to wear gloves and masks (87.5 percent), adjusting the waiting-room area (58.7 percent) and incorporating more telemedicine services (26.5 percent).

Another new question about hours of operation showed that just under one-half of respondents (44.9 percent) said they expect to pick up with “normal” hours of operation, while 25.6 percent of those who expect to reopen their practices expect that the hours of operation with be shortened. Twelve percent of respondents are still unsure about operating hours, while 16.5 percent expect to expand their operating hours and 1 percent said they will “see emergency patients only.”

Wave six of the survey also asked respondents for the first time whether they had been tested for coronavirus, and only 3.3 percent of respondents said they had been tested. Among all 1,110 respondents, 0.7 percent tested positive and 2.3 percent tested negative.

Eighty percent of owners who responded to the recent survey said they have applied for CARES Act economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, and 86.4 percent of the respondents who already have been furloughed have applied for unemployment. These two questions were asked for the first time in wave six of the Jobson Research survey.

About two-thirds (65 percent) of the 1,110 respondents identified themselves as optometrists. Other respondents included 28.7 percent opticians/dispensers, 1.6 percent technicians, 0.8 percent ophthalmologists and 3.9 percent of respondents who identified as “other” professions. As with past surveys, female respondents outnumbered male respondents, 52 percent to 48 percent in the recent sixth wave of the survey.

Two-thirds (67.7 percent) of respondents represented practices with a single location, while 18.8 percent operated in practices with two or three locations. Almost one in 10 respondents (9.3 percent) said they practice in a group with more than 10, while 4.2 percent practice in a setting with four to 10 locations. These percentages are consistent with the breakdown of the previous surveys in this series.

The respondents in wave six of the survey overwhelming (72.3 percent) identified phone calls as their primary channel for communicating their reopening plans with patients. This was followed by social media (63.9 percent), e-mail (57.4 percent) and text messaging (44.1 percent). Only 16 percent of respondents said they expected to advertise with local media (newspapers, radio and magazines).

Roughly four in 10 respondents (43.2 percent) said they are working on “a written plan” that addresses the practice’s reopening. This marked a significant increase from wave five of the Jobson survey, when 31.4 percent of respondents said they were working on a “written plan” to address reopening.

Following the trend of the earlier versions of the survey, telehealth services continued its increase in popularity among ECPs. The most recent survey found that 64.9 percent of respondents had billed for telehealth services in the past two weeks, an increase from 56.1 percent and 43.8 percent in the two previous surveys, respectively.

Another continuing trend has been the number of practices with layoffs. In the most recent survey, 60.5 percent of respondents said some staff has been laid off or let go. This is an increase from 56.2 percent and 49.3 percent in the two previous rounds of the survey.

The sixth wave of the Jobson survey also asked respondents about their comfort level with traveling for industry-related meetings and events, assuming public health guidance permits such travel. With respect to events within driving distance, 19.5 percent said they would be comfortable traveling in the summer 2020 and 25.5 percent said they would be comfortable traveling by car in the fall 2020 and 25.1 percent said “sometime in 2021.”

Respondents were less comfortable about traveling on a plane, as only 10.3 percent and 19.4 percent said they would feel comfortable traveling by plane in the summer and fall of this year, respectively. One-third (33.1 percent) said they would feel comfortable with airline travel in 2021 and 27.1 percent of respondents said they are currently unsure about when they will feel comfortable with airline travel.

The sixth wave of the Jobson ECP Coronavirus Study is available to be downloaded for no charge here