In a recent episode of Ophthalmology Off the Grid, cohosts Gary Wörtz, MD, and Blake Williamson, MD, MPH, were joined by Iqbal Ike K. Ahmed, MD, FRCSC; John Kitchens, MD; and Justin Schweitzer, OD, to discuss COVID-19’s impact across eye care and share their predictions for how the current situation will alter the future of their areas of expertise.
On the retina front, Dr. Kitchens noted that he is concerned some patients, particularly those with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are avoiding coming in for evaluation or treatment because they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 and because they are not able to be seen by their primary eye care provider and referred to his practice. He said, “Our new patient volume is going down out of proportion with what we’d normally see from patients with new wet macular degeneration or retinal detachments and tears. We still see some, but it’s just not at the same level.”
Dr. Kitchens also shared his surprise at the emptiness of the hospitals in his area (Kentucky), “We practice next to a hospital and the parking lot is empty every single day and our medical office building is empty [too]. We’re still seeing patients, but I would say we’re about 40% of our normal volume and we’ve taken a lot of steps to try and lower our volume to allow for social distancing. We’ve tried to put off any of those patients that are coming back for their 4, 5, or 6 month visits for [routine follow up].” His practice has also increased injection intervals where possible and limited surgeries to retinal detachments only.
In the optometry space, Dr. Schweitzer said it is a mixed bag in his area, noting that many of his OD colleagues have kept their practices open only for urgent and emergent patients while others have completely shut the doors, not seeing patients at all.
The biggest challenge now, according to Dr. Schweitzer, is staying connected with patients. To this end, he’s started hosting Facebook Live events to try to keep in touch with patients and let them know that he is available for them.
As for the future of eye care, the group consensus was that telemedicine will be an important, evolving, and lasting aspect of eye care post–COVID-19. Dr. Wörtz pointed out that in addition to facilitating doctor-patient interactions, telemedicine could become an important vehicle for comanaging patients.
Dr. Ahmed, while in agreement, cautioned that the collateral effects of moving toward this model must be considered. He noted that physicians went to medical school, “not to look at a scan and do a surgery and be a technician.” And that “We [ophthalmologists] have to still emphasize…the value of a physician—the art of medicine and what goes into that and not dummy it down into basically: look at a scan, a yes, no checkbox and move on.”
COVID-19: Forecasting the New Normal
Cohosts Gary Wörtz, MD, and Blake Williamson, MD, MPH, are joined by Iqbal Ike K. Ahmed, MD, FRCSC; John Kitchens, MD; and Justin Schweitzer, OD, to discuss COVID-19's impact across eye care. Drs. Ahmed, Kitchens, and Schweitzer share their predictions for how the current situation will alter the future of their areas of expertise.