Pediatric vision screening prevalence and specialist utilization has steadily declined since 2016, with a more significant decrease occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, according to a study published in Ophthalmology. Unmet vision care needs also increased after the pandemic onset despite downward trends occurring the years prior.
Researchers analyzed data from 174,551 children across 5 years and examined 4 primary vision measures including vision screening, specialist utilization, vision status, and unmet vision access. Data including where the children received care, blindness and other conditions that were not resolved by spectacle lens use, and whether the child had received eye care in the past 12 months were collected. A total of 3 confounder-adjusted logistic regression models determined trends over the period encompassing 2016-2020 and categorized data according to the period preceding the pandemic (2016-2019) and during the pandemic (2019-2020).
According to the report, the prevalence of vision screenings significantly and steadily declined from 2016 to 2020 (69.6%; 95% CI, 68.6-70.5 to 60.1%; 95% CI, 59.1-61.1; P <.001). Although vision screenings had declined steadily before the pandemic, the declines continued significantly post-pandemic onset (P <.001).
Among children who were screened, there was a significant 5-year decrease in the proportion of children who received an eye screening from a specialist (55.6%; 95% CI, 54.4-1-56.9 to 50.4%; 95% CI, 49.0-51.7; P < .001), and this trend was exacerbated by the pandemic (P=.006).
Prior to the pandemic (2016-2019), there was a nonsignificant decrease (24.3%) in reports of unmet access for vision care (P =.19). However, after the onset of the pandemic, there was a significant increase in reports of unmet vision care (0.5%; 95% CI, 0.4-0.8 to 1.1%; 95% CI, 0.8-1.5; P=.004).
“Details on vision screening and access trends in the U.S. in the pediatric population are vital to inform future policymaking and patient care,” according to the researchers. “Additionally, the impact of the expansion of certain modalities of healthcare access during the pandemic, such as virtual appointment platforms, should be examined.”
Study limitations include potential population bias and variations as to what constitutes a vision screening.
Chauhan MZ, Elhusseiny AM, Samarah ES, Rook BS, Sallam AB, Phillips PH. Five-year trends in pediatric vision screening and access in the United States. Ophthalmology. Published online October 1, 2022. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2022.09.018.