“Ophthalmology off the Grid” cohosts Gary Wörtz, MD, and Blake Williamson, MD, MPH, sat down—virtually—with Robert Weinstock, MD, and Elizabeth Yeu, MD, on March 27 to discuss how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting their practices and what they’re doing/planning in response.
“Dynamic and mindboggling” were the two words that came to mind for Dr. Yeu regarding the pandemic currently wreaking havoc on individuals and industries around the world. Dr. Yeu, of Virginia Eye Consultants, Norfolk, Virginia, works as part of multispecialty group of 20 providers that is under the larger umbrella of a private equity company of more than 500 employees. She noted that being under this larger umbrella may allow her practice to weather the storm a little bit easier from a financial perspective.
It hasn’t been easy though. According to Dr. Yeu, “It has been a lot of work along the way to figure out what to do. From the doctors to shareholders, employee physicians, optometrists, and all of those who support us in the clinic on the day to day. We’re trying to utilize PTO [paid time off]. Allowing staff to dip into upwards of 40 hours of PTO and then see where to go from there. I’ve seen some who have decided to go ahead and be let go so that they can take on unemployment status.”
Dr. Weinstock, who is in private practice at The Eye Institute of West Florida, Largo, Florida spoke about how his practice has responded to the crisis, “We’re pretty much shut down. We’re really worried about our staff. We’re really banking on [the stimulus package] because that is a vehicle to allow us to keep things going and pay our staff. But I don’t know what that process looks like. There’s a real greyness going, not only how long this is going to last but also what to do with the staff—furlough versus layoff, how many do we keep around, do we bring them all back when the stimulus package goes through or wait a little bit? There’s so much going on”
The biggest thing on Dr. Weinstock’s mind is the issue of personal protective equipment (PPE). “Coming out of what we’ve learned from South Korea, China, and Italy, is the PPE issue. There are certainly protocols coming out about what we all should be wearing and what we should all be doing. But we don’t have the equipment. I’m just telling my staff to do the best they can.”
One question that has been on the minds of both Dr. Yeu and Dr. Weinstock is where the state of premium cataract surgery and refractive surgery will be when we come out on the other side of this. Dr. Yeu suspects that when the storm settles, “we may see an incline and a bump in younger patients getting LASIK and older patients opting to have an advanced technology procedure.” Dr. Weinstock, on the other hand, fears that if the stock market doesn’t bounce back very quickly, people entering the retirement phase of their lives may tighten up a little bit, and just want to come in to get the basic cataract surgery and go, stating, “We’ve been living in a very flush time, and I don’t think a lot of us have realized how lucky we’ve been over the past decade.” Dr. Wörtz added that LASIK may increase among the younger generation because this situation may leave a societal imprint of ‘I need to get thigs done because I don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold and I need to be prepared.’
The Ophthalmology off the Grid webcast was the third in a special series devoted to the COVID-19 outbreak. The next episode of Ophthalmology off the Grid will take place on March 30 and will include updates from Capitol Hill.