The eye care industry in Scotland has undergone a phased resumption following the initial lockdowns in March. From 13 July onwards, optometry practices were allowed to increase their provision on a needs or symptoms-led basis for emergency and essential eye care; from 3 August, routine eye care in community practices and in patients’ homes resumed; and from 7 September, face-to-face domiciliary eye care in day centres and residential care homes resumed. Eye care is a crucial service for patients of all ages, and while the resumption of activities is good news for eye care centres and patients alike, the question remains: to what extent will COVID-19 continue to affect the industry in the post-COVID-19 world?
Many countries across the globe – particularly the U.S. and various European countries – are undergoing a so-called ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 cases, and information gleaned in these countries can be used by others undergoing similar challenges to build a post-COVID business survival strategy. Key changes to financial strategy, budgets and contracts will be seen across the globe as businesses adapt to new demands and needs. Digitalisation, or the provision of products and services online, has also enjoyed a big boom in times in which consumers are seeking to minimise face-to-face experiences. A study by INVISION has found that around 18% of eye care business owners report that COVID-19 has transformed their practice irremediably. Almost 70%, meanwhile, report that they will stick with some of the changes they have adopted during the outbreak.
Telemedicine Will Prevail
A study by A Sommer and E Blumenthal has found that new technological and methodological advances are “a valuable tool for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic ocular conditions” during the pandemic. Their research showed that teleophthalmology was effective for the screening and management of a host of adult and paediatric ocular conditions. These include diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy of prematurity. It can also be used to help manage glaucoma. Telemedicine has a vital purpose that ranges far beyond the pandemic. It can be used to treat patients in rural areas, those that have difficulties with mobility, and other patients who can otherwise miss key diagnosis, revision, or management appointments with their health providers.
Machinery such as digital phoropters allows practitioners to maintain a safe distance in times of contagion. Digital phoropters essentially involve the performance of a subjective refractive test – one in which the practitioner is controlling the phoropter head from a touchscreen on their desk. This differs vastly from manual phoropter heads, which require the health professional to come into close contact with the patient’s face. Smart phones, meanwhile, can be used to take fundus photographs to capture images of the fundus or retina, as well as the optic nerve and retina blood vessels.
Improved Hygiene Measures
The dramatic, sweeping nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the realisation that it may not be the last global pandemic faced by current generations, suggests that eye care centres will be thinking of ways to improve hygiene and to design their centres for contactless service to the greatest extent possible. Practices likely to be adopted include mandatory hand sanitising, the use of UV-wanding frames, and contactless entry and exit from key areas of health centres. Some organisations will also be adopting short messaging service solutions to enable patients to make their payments via text.
Eye care centres in Scotland will be making changes to eye care, including the building of bigger cash reserves, improved hygienic practices, the use of new machinery, and the provision of services online. Telemedicine has proven to be a vital aid in times in which many centres have had to close for weeks on end. The pandemic has also emphasised the need to design centres that require less contact and to embrace mobile-based payment systems involving text messaging.
Author: Sara Miller