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VIENNA, Va.—Starting today, MyEyeDr. (MED) is selectively opening a number of offices, approximately 60 locations, to provide its patients with essential services, company executives told VMAIL. Artis Beatty, OD, chief medical officer of MED said, "MyEyeDr. is constantly reviewing and evaluating guidance from the CDC, AOA, AAO, as well as various federal, state and local authorities. Our top priority remains operating in a safe environment to protect the health and wellbeing of our associates, doctors, patients and the communities we serve.

"The process behind both closing and selectively reopening our offices has been comprehensive and thorough. In an effort to resume treating patients who depend on our vision care, and after looking closely at the data, we believe we have made the right decision not only for our patients but also for our doctors, associates and the overall business of MED," he said.

Following the "soft" opening of two offices, in Vienna, Va. and Raleigh, N.C. this past weekend to review all safety protocols and several internally adjusted procedures, the company implemented several training sessions for its doctors and associates across the offices, in particular around the proper use of PPE and screening criteria to better understand patient needs. Generally speaking, the 60 offices have been selected in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, some in central Florida, part of Illinois, a few in Connecticut and Georgia. The MED website enables patients to find locations that will be open.

On March 19, MyEyeDr. had announced the temporary closing of all of its 600 offices, as VMAIL reported. On April 2, the company extended those closings, maintained its compensation of all doctors and implemented some furloughs and other cost-cuts, as reported.  

Considerations in recent weeks of what to do and where to open for essential care, Dr. Beatty explained, "was a multi-step process. We looked at our patient demand, where they were calling for our on-call and telemed services, where our offices were most utilized for comprehensive and medical optometry care. We took into account what the CDC defines as essential but we also had discussions with individual boards of optometry, the American Optometric Association (AOA) and, based on the coronavirus cases, where and how it would be safe to open."

For the doctors and associates, participation in the selective openings is elective, Dr. Beatty said. "We surveyed our doctors, our associates and staff to see how they felt about coming to work and taking care of patients and we're happy to say that most were very ready. A lot of that hinged on how we would have the proper safety and procedures in place. We wanted to be sure we asked the proper questions of patients to take care of their essential needs and our essential care screener tool was created.

"We will implement key guidelines and protocols for the foreseeable future. Our standard operating procedures have been updated to reflect these new protocols and we will have trained our associates prior to opening for patient care. We began with detailed written guidelines and policies, combining the expertise of our clinical leadership team, with an understanding of practical implications and the patient experience," he said.

According to Dr. Beatty, "We plan to adhere to social distancing guidelines by limiting the patient schedule to avoid overlap, as well as minimizing the number of associates and patients in an office at any one time. As an extra precautionary measure, our associates and ODs will have their temperatures taken and recorded daily along with each patient who enters the office. For further protection, we will provide PPE for all associates, OD’s and patients.

"We are double-masking our staff and doctors and also providing masks for patients who come into the office. We will start with limited hours and this may change as we understand demand levels. What's important is that we didn't go back into the clinic with a 'normal' schedule. We created a patient template to allow for more time with individual patients—we are by no means trying to increase patient volume here, but to meet patient needs."

He continued, "In addition to online appointment scheduling with our central communications office, we don't want to have full waiting rooms, we will reduce the number of seating options and work to minimize the number of patients in the office. Across the offices, rigorous hygiene and safety protocols have been amplified and will be performed after each patient interaction. Each booked patient will be given an auxiliary phone number to call and let us know when they are there. Doors will be locked with a sign that will have a number for patients to call if they want to be in touch to discuss their urgent care needs."

Telemedicine is being utilized more as well, Dr. Beatty said, noting, "We had been operating on more than one EMR platform, prior to COVID-19, but once we discontinued in-person patient care, we moved everyone to the same platform. Eyefinity EHR has an advantage in that it is internet-based and can be used at home. We also started working with and are using Eyecare Live as a partner platform, which enables two-way video and video chatting that can input into our EHR. And, we will be going forward, in a pilot with Digital Optometrics for an in-office experience."

Added Sue Downes, MyEyeDr. CEO, "We see this as a beginning-to-end concept, and working within our overall emphasis on the patient experience, to integrate these processes overall in our offices in general."

Downes noted, "This is a situation we are all living in, day to day. We are watching closely what's going on, state by state and within cities and towns within those. There is no right or wrong way to execute against essential care, except the safe way. And, in addition, we're thankful to be with Goldman Sachs (Merchant Banking) at this time. They are helping us think through protocols and other resources. When we get things underway this week and establish our best learnings soon, we also think we can communicate a general checklist that other private optometrists and groups in our field, to be used or shared when the situation comes back and they're ready to learn more about what works well."

Finally, Downes noted, "We are also proud that our MyEyeDr. team has come together to establish the MyEyeDr. OneFamily Fund, to assist our vulnerable associates who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund is financed exclusively by personal financial donations from members of our team and truly is about how MyEyeDr. is pulling together at this time."