Survey Examines Nationwide Impact and Response of Optometry Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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ST. LOUIS—At considerable sacrifice, doctors of optometry continued to deliver emergency and urgent care during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, according to a new survey by the American Optometric Association’s Health Policy Institute (HPI). The HPI conducted the survey between April 22 and May 6 to provide a snapshot of how ODs were responding to the health care crisis.There were 1,034 responses from doctors practicing in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Among the key findings, 80 percent of ODs were providing emergent and urgent care services to patients during the pandemic and only 11 percent were not providing patient care at all.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of doctors were seeing less than 5 percent of their typical pre-pandemic patient volume and three out of four doctors had personally taken a reduction in income to protect the practice during the pandemic.

"It was gratifying—yet not surprising—to see such a high percentage of doctors of optometry keeping their doors open for emergent and urgent care," HPI chairman Steven Loomis, OD, said. "Because the vast majority of care provided by optometrists is preventative and well-care (care that was suspended in March due to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), few if any of our colleagues had a business model that would be profitable providing emergent and urgent care only. Yet, that is exactly what doctors of optometry did. Clearly, meeting the needs of patients and keeping them out of emergency departments was the priority over profits."

Additional findings include:

• The top two emergent/urgent care delivered by ODs were foreign body removals and eye infections/conjunctivitis.

• 25 percent of the emergent and urgent care provided by ODs was surgical. 92 percent of doctors providing emergent/urgent surgical care said it was for foreign body removals.

• ODs estimated that nearly 60 percent of the patients they treated during the pandemic would have otherwise sought care at an emergency department or other urgent care setting had the doctors of optometry not been providing care.

The survey by the health care think tank was designed to capture useful information at an unprecedented time, according to AOA.

"It is clear from the survey that doctors of optometry have played a key role in providing critical care to Americans during this crisis," Dr. Loomis added. "It is also clear that while patients and doctors alike will experience some changes in the delivery of care, optometrists will continue in their role in providing that critical care."