We learned through these seven months while surviving the COVID-19 pandemic that it is impacting all aspects of everyday medical life – clinical practices, residents, sub-specialties and medical equipment such as PPE, masks etc. The pandemic is affecting the ocular well-being of people as well the patients already having ocular problems. The American Society of Retina Specialists conducted a survey to study the impact of COVID-19 on retinal patients and practices in the last few months during the pandemic.

Retina practices across the nation began implementing strategies to protect patients, staff, and doctors through increased sanitation, decongesting offices, and social distancing. The most notable impact on the retinal health sector is the reduction in the volume of patients. The main reason behind this decline is the societal shutdown. Vestrum Health has continuously updated the data of hundreds of retina specialists across the US which is collected from the database of HIPAA electronic health records. The following trends are seen in retinal practices and show the impact of COVID-19 on retinal patients and practices :    

  • During week 3 of March, referred to as the COVID-19 era, an abrupt decline in total patient volume of about 38 per cent was observed. Patient volumes continued to fall to a low point of about 50 percent of pre-COVID levels in the following 4 weeks, with gradual recovery by May 16 to a volume approximately 20 percent lower than the pre-COVID-19 period.
  • Data analyses drove deeper and identified the rates of returning patients which dropped to about 50% of the pre-COVID-19 level and later recovered to 80% of the pre-COVID-19 level by the end of May.
  • The latest patient referral data is disconcerting in that there was a 67% decrease in referrals of latest dry AMD patients between March and May 2020, a delay that does not bode well for those patients whose target is visual preservation.
  • Patients undergoing routine anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) therapies over the span of months for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) continued to receive care during the pandemic relative to patients with other retinal diseases.
  • Presentation of visual acuity in newly referred patients with diabetic macular edema during the COVID-19 era was worse than in pre-COVID-19 times; this has implications for the physiological burden that the pandemic could have on pre-existing patients and in particular on delayed diagnosis and treatment patients.
  • During the shutdown time comprehensive ophthalmology and optometry practices stopped and opened just for emergencies, restricting referrals.
  • Very old, potentially frail, people over the age of 80 could be at greater risk as a result of their lack of vision-sustaining treatment by sheltering in the home during the pandemic.
  • The number of patients in the northeast US also declined more possibly due to the magnitude of the pandemic.

After noticing the downfall and severity of the impact of COVID-19 on retinal patients and practices throughout the nation, many strategies were implemented to reach out to the patients, staff and doctors through telemedicine, and interactive medicine.