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Business continuity planning for optometry practices

By Karen Crouch
The assumption that business-crippling events rarely occur, and will be addressed at the time, is flirting with danger. KAREN CROUCH explains why every practice should plan for the worst to safeguard success.

Sadly, the world has become a risky place to live in and do business, but that doesn’t mean we should live in a constant state of fear or trepidation.

However, it’s wise to be prepared for unpredictable and potential events that may disrupt business or render premises and staff unable to service clients.

Natural disasters and accidents are generally viewed as the main sources of business disruption. Such incidents may, within reasonable limits, be anticipated and planned for through a comprehensive Risk Management Plan.

However recent incidents, triggered by human misbehaviour or fault, have shed a spotlight on the need for Business Continuity Planning (BCP). In other words, complacency and poor planning with regard to potential business disruptions is flirting with danger.

"BCP is a process by which most foreseeable, disabling events may be effectively managed"

BCP is commonly viewed as ‘disaster recovery’, which is somewhat true, but only because recovery is the final step in ensuring continuity of patient servicing. Rather, BCP is a process by which most foreseeable, disabling events may be effectively managed.

Of course, there may be severe incidents that simply can’t be anticipated or remedied by pre-planning e.g. damage to practice premises by an external force, but BCP incorporates most aspects of business operations/ management.

This process is distinctly different from other forms of ‘risk management’ which may focus on specifics, such as succession planning to ensure appropriately qualified personnel are suitably trained or secured externally.

Instead, BCP is a back-up version of day-to-day operations, performed under abnormal or supernormal conditions.

Let’s consider a simple example – a new type of client service, technology or product is about to be launched and back-up plans are in place for various essential support services, such as loss of power. All planning and preparation goes well but..... the new service is launched and the practice cannot cope with demand from patients that exceed expectations!

Consequently, perception of the new service is poor, not because of service quality, but for the inadequate manner in which potential patient demand was planned for – in particular the likelihood of excessive demand.

The lesson to be learnt from this type of experience is that BCP should cater not only for adverse (abnormal) events, but also for better than expected (supernormal) conditions.

Effective planning requires the prioritisation of events that are likely to be rated higher in business impact terms than others, e.g. loss of premises versus loss of telecommunications, for which alternative arrangements may be more easily invoked.

Additionally, the related cost of putting in place appropriate mitigants for certain disabling events can be so prohibitive that they negatively impact practice profitability and overall viability of the business.

Such an example is having an alternative site (first item on the above table) adequately equipped and ready for use if needed. This solution may only be affordable once the practice’s growth supports the use of two separate premises.

AFT Pharmaceuticals

Regardless of an unsettling or disabling event’s severity, impact on patients must be minimised as much as possible, making it the highest priority in the planning process.

Important elements of sound BCP are:

Patient management: Under abnormal or supernormal circumstances, it is vital to explain to patients that service quality may be lower or certain services may not be available at all, depending on the intensity of the particular situation caused by the adverse event;


BCP Remedies

Loss of premises, or access to premises

Alternative site (adequately equipped, if available)

Loss of IT systems

Back up site; externally hosted systems

Loss of telecommunications

Use of mobile phones; wireless access

Cyber-fraud attack

Implementation of appropriate insurance and back-up

Loss of key personnel

Succession Planning

Unexpectedly high demand

Forward planning, additional e.g. casual) staff

Internal staff: Staff and practitioners must be prepared to act calmly, manage service levels at potentially lesser than normal levels, but never compromise on quality;

Periodical testing: Too many well-documented plans don’t work when invoked, as they may not have been tested in a simulated environment.

Noting that all possible disabling events may not lend themselves to meaningful test simulations without disrupting normal daily operations, ‘white board’ based discussions during staff meetings should be considered to at least ensure employees are prepared in a theoretical sense.

A further practical approach is to commence plans on a smaller scale and progressively expand them. Initial plans may focus on more serious disabling events, such as single premises loss, and gradually expanded to include, say, loss of transport (lesser impact).

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