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OOMC News

Through The Eyes of A Doctor

By Annie – August 28, 2020

Take a behind the scenes look at the extraordinary team effort put forth in the wake of these unprecedented times.

The last few months have been both tragic and challenging. We all have relatives, friends and colleagues who have been affected by the pandemic.  We have had to make rapid decisions regarding medical care, usually without enough information to logically consider all the alternatives.  In retrospect some decisions were correct, and others weren’t. We had to “learn on the fly”. I remember the first week of the pandemic, we had a patient come into the office who had been in the same room as someone with the virus. We all went into panic mode. We immediately ushered him into an empty room in the corner of the office. We gave him and everyone near him an N95 mask. We examined him, sent him on his way, bleached the entire office, and then threw out 5 of the 10 N95 masks that we owned figuring they were disposable and easily accessible. Live and learn.

Omni officially closed its offices following state guidelines in the third week of March. It was the right thing to do from a public health perspective, but we as a group felt that without having the ability to take care of patients with urgent problems, we would be putting too many patients at risk of permanent vision loss.  Despite most specialty eye care practices closing, we elected to reopen for urgent patients. This included seeing retina patients daily and having an O.D. and several other M.D. Specialists in each office available for emergencies. It was shocking that in the first few weeks we saw patients who were cared for by other specialty providers who stated that when they called their provider’s office they heard the following message: “We are closed: If you are having an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest ER“. Not only did we not want our patients to lose access to urgent eye care, but we certainly did not want them to incur the risk of going to an ER where the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 was high. One week after Omni closed, it reopened for urgent patients. With the help of several dedicated professionals, we were able to not only see patients in four of our NJ offices, but also perform emergency surgery at Essex Specialized Surgical Center (ESSI).

The structure was as follows: every patient with an appointment scheduled for a particular day was assessed. If it was determined that the patient had an issue that would lead to imminent vision loss without treatment, that patient was kept on the schedule. If not, the patient was rescheduled for a later date. The call center then called all the patients, advised them of their status and confirmed their appointment times. All emergency phone calls were triaged by an optometrist. Almost every patient who was considered “urgent” came in for his/her appointment. The offices were then set up in a way that appointments could be streamlined and efficient. Patient appointments were spaced out. Testing was kept to the bare minimum. Patients were kept in the same room for the entire visit. The obstacle was that we had no front desk staff, technical staff or scribes. Due to a dedicated group of doctors working together, we overcame these issues. We all learned how to check patients in, screen for virus exposure, schedule appointments, set up injection trays, sterilize equipment, clean rooms, run the OCT machine, schedule surgery, and run an office. The first few days were difficult, but we found our groove by the end of the first week. The entire process was orchestrated by our clinical director, whose tireless efforts saved the operation. We are indebted to her for her efforts. In addition, we were able to partner with ESSI in establishing emergency OR time every Thursday for up to 5 emergency cases.  Thanks to our nursing team, not only did we have spotless and sterile offices, but we were able to get a skilled OR team together for surgery.

As a result of these efforts, during the weeks of official closure, we were able to see 942 retina patients, perform over 400 intraocular injections, do 45 major OR cases, 6 pneumatic retinopexies, multiple office surgical and laser procedures, and save the vision of hundreds of patients. I will admit that the first few weeks were very difficult. The work itself was not the hard part – we were only seeing about 40% of our normal volume – the emotional impact of the pandemic was the challenge. Every day and every night, we questioned what we were doing. We all knew that we were helping patients with their visual issues, but were we possibly spreading the virus? Were we putting ourselves at undue risk? I was certain that I would contract the virus at some point in the first few weeks. The guilt of possibly contracting the virus and putting my family at risk was overwhelming. Although the other doctors who heroically volunteered to work with us were younger and in good health, they all experienced the same feelings and trepidations.

There were several things that to some degree put us at ease. First, our nurses and operations team showed immense leadership by setting up the offices in a way that patient visits would be as rapid and clean as possible was greatly appreciated. They created as safe an environment as possible for us and the patients. Second, we realized after a few weeks that we were all staying healthy. Although some of that was attributable to luck, some of it certainly was due to the way we set up and ran the offices. Finally, the gratitude of the patients. Every single patient we saw thanked us profusely for staying open for them. Every single one at the end of the visit said, “Thanks for being here for us doc, you and your family stay well – we need you“. Although the pangs of guilt remained, they were certainly soothed by the important work we were doing and the gratitude of the patients. We will continue to maintain a safe environment as we reopen so that we can continue to keep your patients safe and seeing well.

 

Burton Wisotsky, M.D.

Retina Specialist

Medical Director Omni Eye Services

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We are here for you! Omni Eye Services is OPEN for all patients and appointment types.

To ensure the safety of our patients, our staff, and allow for social distancing we have implemented new and CDC approved safety protocols. Check them out here.

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