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Optometrists move to urgent care model amid COVID-19

Optometrists across Australia, including the country’s largest optical chains and independent groups, have adapted their service models in response to the COVID-19 emergency and are hopeful of restoring normality to their businesses within a month.

Lyn Brodie, OA.

It follows advice that Optometry Australia (OA) received from the Department of Health in recent days, which stated optometrists should exercise discretion and limit themselves to urgent cases only.

“We recommend that optometrists use their clinical judgement to determine if appointments can be postponed without undue risk to patient health or well-being and that they should begin working within that framework for now,” OA CEO Ms Lyn Brodie said.

To support optometrists in implementing this recommendation, OA has developed a Guide for triaging urgent and critical care. 

In the largest announcement impacting sector, Specsavers revealed it is “hibernating” its normal retail service and has subsequently stood down all store team members from midnight Sunday 29 March to Thursday 30th April.

The chain, which operates 350 optical stores and 150 audiology businesses in Australia, will now provide only urgent and essential care via a combination of in-store, telephone and video consultations.

Each store remaining open for essential care will be staffed by an optometrist store director and an optical dispensing director and, where necessary, an audiologist director.

Mr Paul Bott, Specsavers executive director and general manager, said the company operates under a franchise partnership model, meaning its optical stores and audiology businesses are owned and operated by optometry, dispensing and audiology professionals.

Specsavers is hoping all stores will return to full capacity within a month.

“Given the serious impact the coronavirus has had on their revenues and cashflows, it is critically important that we act decisively now to help protect their businesses for the future so that when the current situation eases, they are in a position to open once again,” he said.

“The decision we have taken therefore is aimed squarely at preserving and protecting 350 optometry and 150 audiology businesses that provide care services and significant numbers of jobs in their local communities.”

Bott added that Specsavers hoped to re-open all stores after 30 April, however this would be dependent upon government and health department advice.

Critical role

Elsewhere, Luxottica announced its OPSM and Laubman & Pank stores would also remain open to provide essential care to patients requiring urgent care.

“Optometrists play a critical primary healthcare role, and can keep people with eye complaints away from hospitals at this critical time,” a company spokesperson said.

OPSM stores will remain open for urgent patient care.

“We continue to apply our heightened hygiene protocol and additional precautionary measures like social distancing for these patients in our stores.”

Mr Steven Johnston, CEO of the major independent optometry group ProVision, said the 460 practices within the company’s network had been advised to follow OA’s advice.

He said some had chosen to close, while the remainder remained open to serve their patients.

George & Matilda Eyecare, which has 92 stores within its network, announced the majority of its stores will remain open. It too has implemented increased levels of sanitisation and hygiene.

However, it has temporarily closed 15 stores in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

“After great deliberation, knowing this will impact each of us and our George and Matilda Eyecare family in different ways, we have made the decision to temporarily close selected stores for general business for one month, starting from midnight on Monday 30 March,” the company stated.

“This decision has been made in the interest of looking after the well-being of our team members, customers, patients, and the local community.”

For the stores that have temporarily closed, it will allow patients to speak with optometrists if they have concerns about their eye health.

As of Friday 27 March, Bailey Nelson, which operates 43 boutique stores across Australia, announced it is shutting all physical stores across Australia for at least four weeks in support of efforts to keep our communities safe.

“We are actively reviewing all pre booked appointments and have put in steps to ensure continuity of care. For regular eye checks, we have reset your appointment reminder for 6 months from today,” the company said.

According to its website, several of Oscar Wylee’s 61 stores are also closed across Australia.