The Covid-19 pandemic has created a ‘new normal’ in every aspect of our lifestyle – and healthcare is top of the list. From saving the NHS, to protecting ourselves and our communities from Covid-19, treating those who become its victim, to maintaining all other good health outside of the virus.
For those who wear glasses and contacts, who have regular eye treatments for medical conditions, who have been subject to waiting lists for cataract treatment, or who hoped to go ahead with vision correction treatment this year….all of these things, too, have been affected by Covid-19.
Optegra hospital group has been working hard, along with its partners in the community, to put patient safety first.
Let’s meet Richard Clare, Managing Director at Clare & Illingworth optical practices in Wilmslow and Knutsford, to hear about the changes for their patients.
Our new approach is to try and work both virtually and in practice – these two elements need to go hand in hand now.
We want to get back to seeing patients six days a week, and the virtual element will help us to do that.
We are re-opening our doors from July, and taking bookings now. Of course we are prioritizing those with more urgent needs, while for those who have routine check-ups due but no concerns, some are choosing to put that back a little, which is fine.
For those who do need to be seen, we start off with a phonecall from the team to take some history and symptoms and to get a general idea of what they have noticed with their vision during the pandemic, and also their lifestyle needs.
If they have any questions before they come to see us an Optometrist is always on hand to help.
Getting this part of the test started virtually helps speed up the time spend in the test room and is designed to keep everyone safe when visiting.
There is another advantage to this – it gives the patient time to really think about their options. Some breathing space throughout the diagnostic process can be really helpful and give patients plenty of time to think of any further questions they may have.
Then when they do come into practice for physical eye tests and consultations, staff will wear PPE, there will be a screen around reception, we will social distance at every part and the practice and equipment will be cleaned thoroughly.
Patients will only come to the practice with an appointment so they can feel safe and not rushed – we are going to minimize time in the practice. At the moment we will treat just one patient an hour.
For any patients with urgent needs, our first step of phone or virtual consultation means we can triage them pretty instantly, and refer them immediately on to the NHS hospital or to Optegra if they have a need for sight-saving or urgent treatment. This means they do not even need to enter our premises, and we can ensure they get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.
All these steps mean that we really encourage patients to get in touch – one concern is actually the patients who are not reaching out to us, perhaps they are nervous about appointments, but eyesight is so precious, we ask them to at least phone if they have any concerns or changes to their vision. We can then reassure them about the safe next steps.
Clare & Illingworth have referred private patients to Optegra Eye Hospital Manchester for many years, and are soon to start the NHS Shared Care initiative, to support those awaiting treatment on the NHS.
For patients referred on to Optegra Manchester for treatment, again they can be reassured about the many steps being taken to keep them safe.
From temperate checks on arrival with a contactless thermometer, to hand sanitizer throughout the hospital, social distancing, clinical staff in PPE, deep cleaning of all equipment, and minimal patients in the hospital at any one time – patient and staff safety is the core priority.
Personally I see this as an opportunity to evolve the process of eye care.
We have the technology but it has not been utilized across the whole industry as much as it can – but healthcare can become far more accessible with tech and it can speed up the process, capture the most urgent cases as easily as possible.
If this can increasingly be carried out about across the industry it will be exciting for the future of eye care.