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Saturday / May 21.
HomeminewsPandemic Inspires New Practice Sensory Direction

Pandemic Inspires New Practice Sensory Direction

An exciting new future begins this month for the teams at BullCreek Optometry and Eyes on Oxford, two Perth-based practices owned by Optometry Australia National President Darrell Baker and his wife Christine.

Triggered by the COVID-19 lockdowns, the pair has decided to transform their optometry business into an ‘Integrated Sensory Clinic’ where optometry patients can access and be referred on to a number of allied health practitioners – for paediatric, developmental, neurological, speech, auditory, vision therapy, and occupational therapy services.

Ms Baker said the concept was inspired by Optometry Australia’s 2040 project, which foresees a future where optometrists work hand-in-hand with other health care providers in an integrated model.

“It’s a nod to the 2040 ambitions, and it makes sense financially. We’ve just been through a time where our practices were forced to operate on a much reduced scale due to the pandemic. The disruption triggered a review of our strategic planning, and we looked for opportunities to broaden and protect our revenue stream by offering an array of services, some of which can be offered via telehealth and/or funded by NDIS, which will enable us to operate a more sustainable business,” he said.

Both Darrell and Christine Baker say they are excited about the new modelling and direction, which was pushed along as a result of COVID-19.

“COVID happened so quickly for us all, overnight our practices all but closed, we had a severely reduced income stream and we had to put 20 staff on JobKeeper,” explained Ms Baker.

“We looked at the situation and decided that although there was nothing we could do to change COVID, somewhere in there we could find an opportunity for our business.

“The first thing we did was work on strengthening staff communication and training, both clinical and operational. We knew we had to bring everyone together, keep them connected and feeling as positive as possible. Little things, like exchanging photos while the practices were closed, helped maintain relationships, and then, when we could return to work, we took the opportunity to start reviewing our practice processes, looking for opportunities for improvement.

“There were several opportunities identified. Some staff had not been fully inducted, which meant there were nuances in the way things were done. By taking the time, we were able to streamline approaches taken with patients, and within the business. We started regular Tuesday staff training, beginning the day with whole team training together, before breaking off into clinical, dispensing, therapy and admin groups. This is something we’ve maintained. We now continue to close the practices every Tuesday so that we can focus on staff training. In doing so, we’ve created the most wonderful, positive work environment and interestingly, it hasn’t made any difference at all to our revenue.”

SETTING THE FUTURE DIRECTION

Once the team had smoothed out all the nuances in practice processes, they started looking to the future. “We discussed how the business was and, based on our values, where we wanted it to be in the future, the type of patients we wanted to care for, how we could best meet their needs and the operational changes we would need to make.”

By working in accordance with the concept of Strategy in Action – a formalised, planned approach to directing change, Mr and Ms Baker and their team considered current and emerging trends in eye health within the local area (micro trends); Australia (macro trends) and internationally (mega trends).

“This enabled us to envisage the future we wanted to work towards and to perform a risk/benefit analysis,” Ms Baker explained, admitting the plan they came up with was “both exciting and daunting”.

“We decided to rebrand and establish an integrated sensory clinic by adding to our optometry services with speech therapists, audiologists, and occupational therapists. It was a massive plan and it’s taken months to prepare,” she said, adding that one of the most complex steps was to negotiate becoming an NDIS provider.

Ms Baker said the staff were excited by the opportunities the integrated clinic would bring for the practice, their careers and their patients.

“Our optometrists could see that working alongside allied health professionals would be a great learning opportunity and would enable them to refer patients within the business rather than referring outside. Our dispensers and reception staff could also feel the excitement.

“Of course there were a few people who were anxious about change, however discussing those fears provided a valuable chance to really think through the pros and cons, the challenges and opportunities; and that became a positive for all of us,” Ms Baker said.

To attract the allied health professionals they wanted, Ms Baker said they were open to a mix of employment arrangements, with some working as employees and others preferring to be their own boss. The allied health team is working out of premises at BullCreek, right alongside the Baker’s existing optometry practice.

“In the future, we hope to have clinics in north and south Perth, but this is a great starting point,” said Ms Baker. “We’re so excited to have opened, it feels like it’s the right thing to do and it’s absolutely the right time. Our mindset was changed by COVID-19 and I think we’re not alone in that – health professionals are starting to think differently about how they do business and consumers are also thinking differently about how they seek out health services. I’m looking forward to seeing how the clinic develops and to helping other practitioners adapt the same model.”

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