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ODs Saw 206K Patients at Height of COVID-19 Lockdowns

The care kept vulnerable populations away from ERs dealing with coronavirus cases.

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U.S. optometrists provided urgent and emergent eyecare for more than 206,000 patients at the height of March’s COVID-19 lockdowns, the American Optometric Association reports.

The care provided by ODs diverted vulnerable populations away from emergency departments dealing with coronavirus cases.

Published in July by the AOA Health Policy Institute (HPI), a new report details optometry’s patient care contribution during a key period for the nation’s pandemic response.

“It’s clear from these results that a very high number of doctors of optometry kept their practices open just to provide emergency services,” said Steven A. Loomis, OD, AOA HPI chair. “Given that optometry practices are geared to primarily provide comprehensive care, the request to provide emergent care only came at a tremendous financial cost to doctors of optometry. But these results revealed that doctors of optometry did exactly that.

“Despite significant financial sacrifice, doctors of optometry all over the nation kept their doors open to provide care for a multitude of emergent needs, including but not limited to corneal foreign bodies, acute conjunctivitis, vitreous detachments, keratitis and iritis, just to name the most common. Without the provision of those services in-office, patients would have no option other than visiting the emergency departments of hospitals already overwhelmed with potential COVID-19 patients.”

From April 22 to May 6, 89% of doctors of optometry reported providing urgent and emergent care during the pandemic, according to the AOA HPI’s nationwide optometric practice survey. And 60% of patients treated during that time would otherwise have sought care at an emergency department or urgent care center had the optometry practice not been providing essential care.

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The AOA HPI noted that as stay-home orders took hold nationwide, Americans resorted to activities that may be to blame for many of these injuries. Those include chemical injuries from cleaning or lack of eye protection during household or yard work.

“These injuries are best treated in an eye doctor’s office regardless of the pandemic because the optometry office is better equipped with diagnostic instrumentation specific to the eyes not typically found in the emergency department,” the HPI report notes.

An additional 26,861 individuals could have been diverted “if only optometry’s scope of practice laws were consistent with those in the most advanced states,” AOA reports.

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