NEW YORK—Eyecare professionals have shown both their resilience and their willingness to adapt over the past year as the coronavirus pandemic has forced practice closings, upended in-office procedures and put more emphasis on digital offerings and meeting new patient expectations. But through it all, many ECPs have managed to continue growing their practices and making the changes that will be necessary to succeed going forward after the COVID-19 threat subsides, according to Justin Manning, OD, MPH, FAAO, executive vice president, professional strategies for Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA).

“What we have seen over the past year is that practices have navigated the shutdown,” Manning said in an interview. He noted that some practices have “continued to do very well even as we have gone through second and third surges of the virus.” Practices have successfully navigated challenges such as making PPE available to staff and patients, dealing with the Paycheck Protection Program application process and overhauling communication channels and messaging with both patients and staff.

Manning is the latest ECP to participate in VM’s “Conversations with... " series of video interviews. He is interviewed by Vision Monday's senior editor Mark Tosh.

Manning said he believes the emphasis on using technology—whether it’s telehealth options or e-commerce platforms—will continue for ECPs even as the nation rebounds from the pandemic.  

He noted, though, that he’s not advocating a replacement for in-person eyecare, but rather he believes that “connecting beyond the four walls of the practice with the patient” is going to become more important to individual practices.

As services such as telehealth and e-commerce flourish, they also will become part of an enhanced patient experience, which is going to be a future determinant of success. “I firmly believe that the patient experience is today and will continue to be the biggest differentiator that a practice can deliver. … What I talk about as ‘rock-star customer experience’ is hard to duplicate. There are companies like Zappos, for example, that have built an empire on customer service alone. That is their model.”

It’s also important to note that many elements of a practice play a role in creating an outstanding patient experience and that the doctor providing the care “is probably the least important” component of the customer experience environment. Elements such as the front desk, the practice’s website, the opticians’ interaction are all important pieces of determining the overall patient experience, Manning said.

“Having a patient experience plan and empowering the team members to deliver on that experience will continue to be the biggest differentiator that practices have, I believe, long into the future.”

In the video interview, Manning also highlights some of the ongoing initiatives underway at Healthy Eyes Advantage, which has a mission to create the “next generation marketplace where independent eyecare professionals can get anything and everything they need to be successful.”

Among the programs are comprehensive resources for medical billing and coding, a new subscription-based program with the Williams Group for consulting services, online learning and practice performance analysis, and a new weekly podcast series called “Practice Advantage” that provides business tips and other useful strategies.