Ocular surface telemedicine visits could see a post-pandemic rise, and may require protocol updates to meet demands, a study published in the Archivos De La Sociedad Española de Oftalmología suggests. The COVID-19 pandemic led to increased ocular surface disease incidence and a rise in telemedical visits. As this trend continues, clinicians are likely to benefit from more refined technological training, the report suggests.
Researchers administered a 25-question online survey to 68 eye care clinicians (62% men) between May and July of 2021 during which they established a participant profile, determined the pandemic’s effect on practice management, and examined emerging trends and needs. Among the respondents, 74%, 64%, and 50% specialized in ocular surface, anterior segment, and corneal disease, respectively. The investigation examined pandemic-related changes in clinical practice and opportunities to adapt to new care models, which include ocular surface telemedicine.
A majority of the cohort reported agreement that the pandemic delayed ophthalmic diagnosis and follow up (90%) and that there was a greater frequency of patients presenting with dry eye disease (75%), stye or chalazion (62%), and blepharitis (60%). Overall, respondents demonstrated neutral to high agreement (50%-66%) in expressing their belief in a causal relationship between the pandemic and ocular surface pathology.
While 28% of participants reported that they expected ocular surface telemedicine consultation follow up to become more common, particularly among younger patients, 90% agreed that the number of patients with dry eye would increase and 66% reported that virtual consultations would increase. A total of 43% of respondents reported that telemedical diagnostic imaging would improve diagnosis and potentially reduce the burden of care. The study authors acknowledge that implementing the technology to improve ocular surface telemedicine visits would involve new protocols, technological training for eye care staff, and demonstrations for patients.
“It is essential to promote health education to raise public awareness and distinguish serious problems that require urgent attention from those that do not, optimizing the use of medical services,” according to the researchers. “Given the world’s ageing population, artificial intelligence and telemedicine can help alleviate the relative shortage of professionals due to an increase in the number of patients, as well as having the potential to transform access to and delivery of healthcare.”
Study limitations include a small sample size of clinicians from 1 nation.
Disclosure: This research was supported by Angelini Pharma España. Several study authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.
Benítez del Castillo JM, Alejandre Alba N, Henares I, Ferraris MP, Águila M. IMPULSE Study: impact of COVID-19 in the present of ophthalmology focusing on ocular surface and future trends. Arch Soc Esp Oftalmol. Published online March 4, 2023. doi:10.1016/j.oftale.2023.03.004