December 2020


An eye to the future

by Eric Donnenfeld, MD Chief Medical Editor

Eric Donnenfeld, MD
Chief Medical Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic hit home for our ophthalmology practices in March 2020, closing our offices and surgicenters for all but emergency patients for 10 weeks. This was the reality for many of us. There was an atmosphere of generalized concern bordering on panic in many locations due to a fear of the unknown. The hospitals in New York were being overrun with COVID-19 patients, ventilators were in short supply, and 1,000 patients were succumbing to the virus on a daily basis in our state. Many first responders, nurses, and physicians were demonstrating true heroism under these difficult circumstances. We were facing the possibility that eyecare as we knew it would change forever. Economically, we were making tough decisions for our doctors and staff. We were grateful for the guidance of regular emails from the CDC, ASCRS, and AAO.
Fast forward to more than half a year later, strides are being made to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, ophthalmic practices have resumed routine patient care, and surgicenters are open and busy. We continue to see patients from a distance of a foot from their respiratory systems, but great strides have been made in the management of COVID-19. We have implemented enhanced safety protocols to protect patients and staff, as we move forward and understand the importance of wearing a mask. Our infectious disease colleagues are routinely using new antiviral therapy, a vaccine is around the corner, and we understand the value of corticosteroids for the immunologic sequelae of COVID-19.
Time will tell which safety protocols are helpful for our patients and which ones will remain standard going forward. As we implement these changes and scrutinize our behavior, everything is being reassessed with an eye to the future, and we are considering what will stay and what will go. I feel fairly certain that masks will continue to be worn in doctors’ offices, just as following the SARS epidemic in Asia masks are commonplace in that geographic area.
Telemedicine is here to stay for our patients, and webinars will replace many conferences. On the other hand, we all look forward to face-to-face interaction at large meetings, like those of ASCRS and AAO. We have dramatically increased the efficiency of our office to minimize patient time in the office. Patients, staff, and physicians have all benefited from this experience and will continue long after the pandemic.
Interestingly, we’ve seen heightened interest in cataract surgery, premium IOLs, and LASIK during this time. Several scenarios may account for this. For example, patients wearing masks are uncomfortable with persistent fogging of their glasses. In addition, patients may have a sense of insecurity in the current environment, and improving their quality of vision can be a simple way to exert a positive influence during a time when they are feeling otherwise insecure.
As far as the COVID-19 pandemic goes, we’re not out of the woods. Some geographic areas are doing exceedingly well at minimizing new cases and deaths, but we’re seeing spikes in the numbers of cases and casualties in other regions of the country. This suggests that the virus has a high probability of remaining a threat if we are not resolute in maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, eliminating indoor gatherings, and doing everything possible to practice consistent hygiene and minimize interaction. This is especially important for elderly and high-risk patients—many of whom populate our offices. The overwhelming return of patients to practices at these uncertain times demonstrates the importance of vision and our profession for our patients.

An eye to the future An eye to the future
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
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