Pandemic Protection

Patient safety comes ahead of all else during COVID-19 crisis.

New York native Bill Venter made good on his plan to retire early and move to Florida late last year. Shortly after arriving, however, the avid motorcyclist and outdoorsman failed the vision test he took while trying to obtain his Florida driver’s license.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Bill Venter

A cataract was the reason.

“I knew it was there because I had a cataract taken out of my right eye a few years earlier,” Bill says. “Because I could see so well out of my right eye, I never noticed how bad my left eye had become.”

Almost immediately after failing the test, Vernon began looking for an ophthalmologist to treat the cataract in his left eye. He chose Robert J. Weinstock, MD, of The Eye Institute of West Florida, who first saw Bill in January and recommended surgery to remove the cataract.

Because the coronavirus forced the postponement of elective surgeries, Bill’s surgery was moved to May. By then, The Eye Institute of West Florida had taken measures to ensure that all patients know that going into their surgeries, extreme precautions have been taken to protect them from exposure to the virus.

“We understand why people are hesitant to visit a doctor right now, but it’s important to continue taking care of your health, and that includes taking care of your eyes,” Dr. Weinstock states. “That’s why we’ve gone above and beyond to protect our patients, doctors and staff from the risk of contamination.”

Bill experienced firsthand the extreme safety measures taken when he returned for his surgery. He says he felt safe and confident he was protected from infection.

“When I received my appointment reminder, I was provided with a list of safety information I would have to abide by, including wearing a mask or face covering,” Bill states. “I also learned ahead of time all the precautions they were taking to protect me. It really put me at ease.

“Before I even entered the building, they greeted me at the front door and took my temperature,” Bill says. “Then they had me sign in and asked me to go back and sit in my car. I was only there for a few minutes.

“They came and got me right away, so they were very efficient. There was no waiting around, and it was obvious that they scheduled everything in a way that made it as convenient as possible, which I appreciated.

“When I went into the building, everybody was wearing masks. And they had plastic on all the machines in the exam rooms, and there was a shield between me and the doctor in the surgery center. They really went the extra mile and did a great job making it safe.”

That extra mile the facility went in preparing its offices, exam room and surgery center is part of what Dr. Weinstock considers a new standard of care that will likely become the norm, at least for the foreseeable future.

“It’s well-proven and documented that wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently and cleaning surfaces regularly dramatically reduces the spread of COVID-19,” he says. “That’s why we’ve taken the steps we have.

“And that’s why we’re checking each patient’s temperature at the door, checking the temperatures of all our doctors, nurses and staff members daily, and not allowing anyone in the building who has any kind of respiratory illness or flu and cold-like symptoms.

“If we find someone on our staff with symptoms, we send them to get tested. And if any staff members have a family member that they’ve been in contact with that has tested positive, we have them stay home, even if they’re asymptomatic, until they test negative.”

Virtual Visits

It’s not just at the front door where The Eye Institute of West Florida is working hard to eliminate the risk of infection. As Bill could see during his visit, extra precaution is being taken inside the exam rooms and the in-house second-floor surgery center as well.

“In addition to the regular daily cleaning that has always been done here, our staff is wiping down the office first thing in the morning before we get started and again at night before we leave,” Dr. Weinstock reports. “So, we’ve become more diligent.

“And every time an exam room is used, it is cleaned extensively before the next patient comes in. Another thing we’re doing is, instead of moving patients around from room to room during an exam, we’re keeping them in one exam room.

“While our operating room is a completely sterile environment with very elaborate air filtration systems, there is still a high exchange of oxygen in there, so we have everybody always wearing a mask in the surgery center.

“Of course, one of the advantages we have is that we do have our own surgery center in our main building in Largo. Patients don’t have to go to a hospital, where they can be exposed to other germs and there can be a lot of waiting around.

“In fact, because of the changes we’ve made, our wait times are as short as they’ve ever been. When a patient’s appointment time comes, we call them in, get them on the bed and take them right to their procedure. When they’re done, they go right home.”

The Eye Institute has also modified its post-operative care procedures to greater ensure safety. For example, instead of asking patients to come in for follow-up visits, those visits are conducted largely through telemedicine. These virtual visits allow patients to receive the excellence in eye care they’ve come to expect from the safety and convenience of their home.

The precautions have allowed the Eye Institute to become fully functional again, which means it is open to serve all patients, no matter the needed degree of eye care.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

“I felt very safe because they’re doing a tremendous job with all the
precautions they’re taking.” – Bill

That’s a good thing, too, because in addition to treating patients with cataracts, glaucoma and retinal diseases, The Eye Institute of West Florida also offers LASIK surgery, a vision correction option that has become even more popular of late.

“Because of the coronavirus, more and more people are wearing masks now, but for people who wear glasses, that mask can cause your glasses to fog up,” Dr. Weinstock states. “So we’re actually seeing a surge of people coming in asking for LASIK surgery.

“We’re also seeing a surge in people wanting to get their cataracts out. They want to get out of glasses, so they’re asking for the laser surgery to correct their astigmatism or for the new trifocal or light adjustable lens that gets them completely out of glasses.”

Bill is among those who is now glasses-free thanks to cataract surgery. He says the procedure performed by Dr. Weinstock should allow him to easily pass his next vision test.

“The procedure went great,” he exudes. “I never felt a thing, and by the next day I was already seeing better out of that eye. The whole experience was great, and I felt very safe because they’re doing a tremendous job with all the precautions they’re taking.”

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    • The Eye Institute of West Florida

      The Eye Institute of West Florida was founded by Stephen Weinstock, MD, in 1974. For more than forty years, the practice has provided excellence in eye care in a warm, personal environment combined with a tradition of service and devotion to th... Read More

    • Stephen M. Weinstock, MD, FACS

      Stephen M. Weinstock, MD, FACS, is a cataract specialist. He founded The Eye Institute of West Florida in 1974, pioneering sub-specialty eye care in Pinellas County. Today, as President and Medical Director, Dr. Weinstock is recognized as a worl... Read More

    • Robert J. Weinstock, MD

      Robert J. Weinstock, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist and is fellowship trained in cataract and refractive surgery. Dr. Weinstock joined the practice in 2001 after completing his residency at the St. Louis University School of Me... Read More

    • Neel R. Desai, MD

      Neel R. Desai, MD, is a fellowship-trained ophthalmologist specializing in LASIK, cataract, and corneal diseases. Dr. Desai is a top graduate of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and completed his fellowship in cornea, ... Read More