How a Healthcare Office Operates Amidst a Pandemic

This summer, I am working for a doctors’ office/surgery center (Asheville Eye Associates) in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I am working in the marketing sector of the company as the Marketing and Project Development Intern. I have never worked in the healthcare industry before, and never really planned on doing so, but due to various implications from COVID-19 (including a lost in-person internship), this opportunity arose, and I jumped at it.

As an ophthalmology (eye doctor) office, the day-to-day task expectations at Asheville Eye are relatively clear; treat patients with eye problems in a safe, yet timely/profitable manner. But, there are many levels to the company, and many different moving parts that come together to keep the office afloat. First, there are eight different locations with at least three doctors on-site at all times. Then, at every site, there are doctors and nurses, administrators, and secretaries. At the main site (where I work) we have doctors, nurses, administrators, and secretaries, as well as a marketing director (my boss) and an optical shop, which employs optometrists and various other employees.

As I have been working almost exclusively with the marketing director, I haven’t really gotten to see the ins-and-outs of the other moving parts of the business in action. But, I have come to understand how the office is operating during COVID-19, which is what I am going to explain in this reflection.

At the beginning of COVID-19, Asheville Eye Associates closed for about two weeks because they were not seen as an “essential medical office”. During this leave, employees were paid in full. The office re-opened in May, and I began my internship shortly after. The office wants to ensure the safety of patients and employees first and foremost, so they have taken extreme operational precautions over the course of the pandemic. The entire office (at every location) has been rearranged to be “socially distanced” and everyone who enters the office must have their temperatures taken before entering. Most (if not all) surgery patients at the surgery center are tested for COVID-19 before having surgery. Every patient waits in their car and only enters the waiting room (which is socially distanced) when they are phoned by one of the nurses. Once inside, masks must be worn at all times by both employees and patients.

The operational precautions that I listed above have created huge change for Asheville Eye, but the implementation and maintenance of the precautions has gone relatively smoothly. Asheville Eye is now running at 75% of its usual patient traffic, compared to 30% at the beginning of re-opening.

Though the leadership and roles played at a doctors’ office appear to be clearly set, there are many different parts (and people) that come together to make it all happen. I have been surprised to find that every employee has their own leadership role, and each role is relatively autonomous. This relative independence creates a very good office culture, for which I have very few suggestions for change. One suggestion that I do have is for just a bit more communication between sectors. There have been times that I have been unsure about a task because I am not sure what a doctor prefers, and I don’t really have a way to get in touch with them in a timely manner because no doctor is answering their emails while seeing patients. Maybe there is a better way to do this… This is something I could definitely work on!