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More Industry Execs Offer Advice to ECPs Coping With COVID-19 in Part 2 Power Hour Podcast

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NEW YORK—Recognizing the extreme business and personal stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the spirit of providing guidance to ECPs from some of the industry's leading companies, a second roster of senior executives took part in Part 2 of a #Save2020Eyecare Town Hall podcast hosted last Thursday night by Gary Gerber, OD, founder of The Power Practice and host of The Power Hour. The first session was held on March 25, as reported by VMAIL last week, featuring a range of leadership advice and guidance. In both sessions, Gerber asked execs to share some personal remarks and also to share ideas to help ECPs get through the unprecedented coronavirus situation and what tactics they might suggest ODs and ECPs consider now as they think of ways to re-emerge and work with their staff to adjust to a new business environment.

Tony Sommer, president, Visioneering Technologies Inc. advised, "You shouldn’t be a stranger to your patients. Use your social media, there are two forms of communication, the first being transactions, taking orders, and operations. The second involves brand building. Put your practice in the minds of your customers. They're being bombarded by lots of other vendors who are trying to reach them. The landscape is cluttered. Your message doesn’t need to be purely medical… you can tell customers what your staff is doing, or it can be fun. Give them puzzles, tips, tricks, anything to keep your brand out front… you should be putting out two to four pieces of content a day. Trying to reach 10 percent to 20 percent of your customers. You should over-communicate. Don’t be a stranger to your patients."

He added, "Think about your eventual reopening as 'the pre-game' and the 'game day' itself. As you get word that you might be reopened, now is the time you need to mind your EMR. Drill down on folks that are due for contact lenses, special treatments. You should be looking for all those routine things that brought patients to your office. Use text, phone, email, all those channels to reach patients. For your game day, think about when you first opened your practice. This is a grand opening… you should make it family friendly. Remember, the kids are out of school, probably until fall. It’s June or December again.

Howard Purcell, OD, president, New England College of Optometry (NECO) offered these 10 ideas.

1) What you do now matters… start now with planning process.

2) Be the source of education… questions about tears, CLs, how it’s transmitted.

3) You can’t abandon your patients… telehealth is a big option. Primarily doing it for triage. We need to keep them out of the hospitals.

4) Be human. Tell your story to your patients.

5) Acknowledge the situation.

6) Breathe some of your expertise out to the community.

7) Be comfortable with change.

8) Take advantage of company offers.

9) Expand your hours.

10) Be clear and loud about how you’re protecting your staff and patients who come to the office.

Marty Bassett, president, Walman, advised, "The day you start planning to reopen is right now. Don’t cancel appointments, reschedule them. Make sure that you start with a full appointment book when you get out of this. Start with people who already had an appointment. Think about the patients' experience. Bring people in with trunk shows. OCT is a good thing to promote. Provide retinal imaging at no additional cost. Introduce them to a new technology."

Bassett added, "Expand your price points… Don’t just think I’m an upper end practice or mid-tier practice. Make sure you have attractive offerings at low, mid and upper price points. You’ll see a slight influx on the front end of people who want to use their insurance benefits. People will be concerned about losing benefits, so they’re using them. And, look at alliance groups and buying groups. Those organizations have turnkey programs to help you offload many important tasks. For a modest investment you can get dramatic results."

Alcon's Sergio Duplan, president of U.S. and Canada, said, "Remember that this eventually will pass. We’re a global company. Look at China. They started before us and now they’re starting to come out of this. We are so fortunate to live in a country like the U.S. Pretty much every company in the world is reacting to this crisis. The U.S. is handling it better. Being a global company like Alcon, we are optimistic. We’re going to come out of this, but it’s going to be painful."

Duplan also shared several things. "Cash is the most important thing to focus on when you’re in a crisis like this. All of a sudden sales and marketing isn’t as important. Have a three-month cash projection. Look at inflows and outflows. Make sure you have enough cash to do what you want to do. Having that baseline is going to be a great way to track reality. It will give you peace of mind." He added, "This is a great opportunity to look at your expense base. Focus on what is urgent, important, what’s going to keep your practice from going under… You need to have ruthless prioritization."

Duplan continued, " With the stimulus package now in Congress, $350 billion will be directed to small businesses. Go into the Small Business Administration website. This money is going to be available very soon. The loan is designed to cover your cash flow needs for at least eight weeks. Make sure that you have access to these sources of cash. Also, really evaluate your staff… Decide who are your A players, B players. Make sure you talk to them , make them feel important, make them feel engaged. And, consider your patient base. It's always more effective to keep your existing customers than finding new ones. As long as you cover social media… if you have time, just pick up the phone and call them, that will go a long way. As a patient, when you get a call from your doctor, it goes a long way."

Eyemed's president Lukas Ruecker observed that ECPs should try to "Use the downtime wisely. Check on regulations in your city, your state, Use the training and virtual opportunities out there. Pick the patients you want to go after—who's due for an exam, what's coming up. Make them the best, first targets. And, while cash flow is certainly important, I think it's a good time to over invest in resources early on. We don’t know when this will start to emerge but consider things that will allow you to create a fantastic patient experience. Things that serve patients but make them want to tell their friends about the eyecare experience they had with you."

In addition, Ruecker said, "Tell folks that you are back in business. Or if you're still in business. Tell your patients and please tell us, tell your managed care companies so that we can list your hours, your days. People need urgent care now and already are searching. Make sure to tell us and we will update your info on our members' site."

Bausch + Lomb's John Ferris commented, "Let's remember that we will all get through this. We will need to fight like hell for our businesses, patients, employees but we will do this. Remember, too, that there are a lot of stakeholders who want to see you succeed. Congress came through with an unheard of stimulus package that will help small business. Tap into that. Alliances, professional associations, vendors, all are there to help you," he reminded ECPs, adding, "I urge you all to think of who you are and all you’ve accomplished. You have an education and a skill set that’s essential, it sets up for success. You're doctors, you've shown resiliency. Not many people can be entrepreneurs. You have what it takes to get you through a restart. And the restart starts now."

David Friedfeld, president of ClearVision Optical spoke of relating, as a family-owned business, to many independent ECPs and practitioners right now and that many of the current challenges are human, emotional. "I'm firmly of the opinion that our industry will rally. This will be a long road. This is a reach out to say, be sure to work on the ‘we’ rather than the ‘me.' In terms of more concrete things, inventory is an issue but we believe there is plenty of inventory out there. Take a look at your boards, and I agree that it's wise to consider expanding the price points that you might carry in your offerings. Coming out of this will be important in terms of taking a fresh approach to everything. Cash flow will be important. And take time to keep camaraderie among your staff and your teams and your patients. This is important to us at ClearVision, too."

De Rigo REM president, Alessandro Baronti, added, "Don’t underestimate the power of our industry, which is an incredible combination of health care and the retail component. Health care will come back stronger, retail will struggle a bit but then re-emerge. "

He commented, "How we are preparing ourselves to go back to our reinvented business is key, though. It cannot be just more of the same or 'go back,' ECPs must bring a different mindset because this is what patients will expect of you. Really apply all the learning, the seminar, the education you have available to you and your teams and implement the great idea or three great new ideas. How can you wow the patient? Patients will expect a different experience and you can plan to be ready. An onmichannel experience will be a must. An online channel to view inventory and choices is going to be a must. Let them interact with you and your office in new ways."

The full two-night Power Hour #Save2020Eyecare podcasts are posted at The Power Hour site here and are available on Apple Podcasts as well.