NEW YORK—After an almost complete shutdown of eyecare practices across the nation in the latter part of March 2020, it’s not unexpected that practices overall performed much better across many of the key office metrics in March 2021. However, in a few key areas—such as patients per day and profitably per patient—March 2021 performance trailed the results of March 2019, the most recent time that ECPs were not dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings on practice performance and operations were developed from Wave 21 of the Coronavirus ECP Survey conducted March 26-30, 2021, by Jobson Research, which has been regularly surveying ECPs and optical retailers since the crisis and shutdowns happened in mid-March 2020.

The respondents (645 overall) identified primarily as optometrists (53 percent) or optician/dispenser (38 percent), and were 59 percent female.

One important finding that came through in Wave 21 is that a large number of respondents said their practices continue to operate below capacity.

In the Wave 21 responses, an important finding related to patient capacity and the number of respondents who believe their practices could be seeing more patients. About two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) said they believe their practice has the capacity to serve more patients than they are currently seeing. Among this group, on average the respondents said they could be seeing 35 percent more patients.

However, the number of practices that believe they have more capacity was even higher in Wave 20 of the survey, when 69 percent of respondents said they were operating below capacity in terms of seeing patients.

In Wave 21, the most-often cited reasons for working at an under-capacity state were: lack of staff (42 percent) and government restrictions (28 percent). “Other” factors were cited by 36 percent of respondents.

One-half of respondents said they expected the number of patients their practices sees per day will stay the same over the next 30 days, and 30 percent said they expected an increase of between 1 percent and 10 percent.

In questions asking respondents to compare 2021 office performance measures to 2020 results, the findings showed double-digit improvement in five key areas: profitability per patient (+18 percent), number of patients per day (+22 percent), revenue (+23 percent), optical sales (+24 percent) and capture rate (+14 percent). It was a different story, however, when practices compared 2021 results to 2019 performance metrics. Notably, the number of patients per day was down 8 percent and profitability per patient was down 5 percent in 2021.

Capture rate in March 2021 was running at an even pace with March 2019, according to respondents, but revenue was off 4 percent and optical sales were down 3 percent.

Asked whether they intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, 74 percent of respondents said “yes” they intended to get a vaccine, or they already have had one or two doses. This marked a jump of 14 percentage points compared with the responses in Wave 20 (when 60 percent of respondents were on board with a positive intention toward one of the current vaccine regimens). Yet, the number of respondents who are not inclined to get a vaccine remained fairly steady, with 8 percent of respondents in Wave 21 compared with 9 percent in Wave 20 (the question presented the options “no, I don’t think so,” and “no, definitely, not.”)

Also in Wave 21, 39 percent of respondents said that 75 percent to 100 percent of the staff has been vaccinated. Twenty percent of respondents said that fewer than 25 percent of the office staff had received a vaccination.

The number of respondents who said staff members had been hit with COVID-19 rose to 53 percent, the highest percentage in the last eight waves of the survey.

In terms of attending the three upcoming industry trade shows (SECO, Vision Expo East and Optometry’s Meeting), about one-quarter to a little less than half said they would “definitely,” “probably” or “maybe” attend one of these shows. For more information on the responses to specific meetings, please see slides 31-34.

Go to VM's Coronavirus Briefing section where you can catch up on all of the 2020 and 2021 Jobson surveys here

Click to view a PDF of the full Wave 21 survey results.