Report, Soapbox

Keeping pace with coronavirus and beyond

One thing we have all become accustomed to since the outbreak of the coronavirus is that the pace of change has been constant, and it has been relentless. The landscape we were looking at last week – let alone two or three months ago – is almost unrecognisable from that of today.

And while each day of the past month has brought compounding bad news, we are also now seeing good news start to emerge in the form of government stimulus measures and slowing transmission rates (in Australia and New Zealand at least). While we probably all now have a handle on the bad news I will therefore focus this piece on the good news, the innovation, the collaboration and the coming together as an industry that I think we all have warmed to over the past few weeks as optometry has collectively sought solutions.

So, I ask you to cast your mind back almost a month to the date of my writing (9 April 2020) and we will see how far we will have moved forward by the time you read this.

The good news: last night Federal Parliament passed its economic stimulus in the form of the JobKeeper legislation alongside that relating to commercial tenancies. Both of these items throw a critical lifeline to businesses, their employees and the economy as a whole and of course help us in our world of optometry. The JobKeeper allowance enables us all to maintain our teams in readiness for the period ahead when normal life resumes, supporting individual livelihoods and keeping some cash flowing through the economy.

The Commercial Tenancies Code of Conduct appears to set out a clear pathway for fair engagement between landlord and tenant. The ‘proportionality’ measures contained within the code provide a commonsense approach based on each tenant’s ability to pay, in direct proportion to their reduced turnover.

Between them it feels like these two key measures give the country and business the best chance of making it through the crisis.

Looking at innovation I think we are all applauding today the great work that Oculo has fast-tracked to develop a powerfully functional telehealth platform for video and audio consults with patients. That all Optometry Australia members will now have access to the platform (many already do of course) is just one example of the collaboration that has manifested itself over the past few weeks.

With a genuine video consult platform like Oculo now a sudden reality it is just as important to have relevant Medicare item numbers enabled for telehealth. Having Oculo in place means we are not simply asking government for telehealth item numbers on the never-never but asking for them with the specifics on how the actual service can be delivered. And talking of collaboration, it was uplifting to see all participants work together to propose the same item numbers (10916 and 10918) to the Department of Health – being Optometry Australia, Luxottica, Diabetes Australia, our team here at Specsavers and others too no doubt. At this point we still have not heard the final word from the Department of Health, but we remain expectant and hopeful.

Beyond this we know that optometry practices of all sizes have been working out how best to look after their patients and customers, reconfiguring and adapting their businesses to suit the times.

In our own world at Specsavers we have hibernated our normal retail service and adapted our store environment under what we are calling ‘Open for Care’. This means offering urgent and essential optometry and dispensing care to those in need. We have closed our front doors and added a bell for one patient at a time to come in. Our team has been busy innovating on a practical level too with the installation due next week of clear Perspex barriers at reception desks and dispense desks in all our stores to give patients another level of comfort in addition to the health and hygiene guidelines all practitioners are following.

Suffice to say, once April is over and this issue of Insight is published, our hope at Specsavers is that we will have progressed significantly through the crisis and the other side might just becoming into view.


Name: Charles Hornor
Business: Specsavers Pty Ltd
Position: Support Office
Location: Port Melbourne
Years in the profession: 15

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