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May 21, 2020
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AAO COVID-19 survey shows revenue losses for private practices

Perspective from Eric D. Donnenfeld, MD
Perspective from Uday Devgan, MD
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Michael X. Repka, MD

In a survey conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology to determine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on practices and their patients, 95% of private ophthalmic practices reported they are seeing 25% or less of their pre-COVID patient volume.

“The revenue losses have been tremendous for ophthalmology. The majority of practices expect to shrink in size in the absence of appropriate federal aid, and a significant number of practices will not be able to resume operations at all,” Michael X. Repka, MD, clinical spokesperson for the AAO, told Healio/OSN.

The AAO launched a series of surveys to understand how U.S. practices have been financially affected and the extent of layoffs. The data will also be presented to Congress to show the effectiveness of aid and how much more help will be needed, Repka said.

The AAO surveyed a random sample of 2,500 members in private practice, with a response rate of 16%. According to the survey, 89% of practice owners have applied for payroll protection. Despite taking advantage of available resources, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, 73% of respondents reported their practices will be smaller, financially unhealthy or both by the end of 2020. Additionally, 6% of ophthalmologists report they will be forced to stop practicing due to the pandemic.

“But there is also hope. With the condition of receiving the right financial support, we’ve seen many of our members become more confident about the possibility of a successful, timely reopening,” Repka said.

Practice owners are now more optimistic about reopening in May than they were in early April. In a second survey conducted from April 23 to 27, 39% of respondents reported they were optimistic about opening in May, an increase from 25% of respondents in a survey conducted from April 9 to 13.

However, if financial aid falls short of projections, 64% reported their practices would be financially unhealthy. CMS began distributing $30 billion in CARES Act grants in the second week of April and another $20 billion on April 24, with 82% of survey respondents reporting they had received funds.

In the April 23 to 27 survey, 92% of respondents said they have applied or will apply for federal loans, with 43% reporting they would likely be applying to two or more programs.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents in the April 23 to 27 survey have applied or plan to apply to the Paycheck Protection Program, 28% have applied or plan to apply to the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program, and 33% have applied or plan to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

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However, AAO members have reported difficulties with certain applications. For the 87% of respondents who applied to the Paycheck Protection Program, 56% reported the process was either too cumbersome or the funding for the first round of the program ran out.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re looking forward to the day when we can safely resume all eye care procedures. We are getting closer every day,” Repka said. – by Robert Linnehan

Disclosure: Repka reports no relevant financial disclosures.