Ophthalmic industry keeps focus on patient care during COVID-19
As practicing optometrists and their staffs have adjusted hours and operations amidst the new environment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, so too has the eye care industry found avenues to continue business and provide much-needed information and products to physicians and the public.
“The most important thing for us is that the messages we’re sending out to the optometric community are focused, relevant and sensitive to the situation that they find themselves in as care givers, as small business owners, as employers – being mindful that this is a different time,” Carol Alexander, OD, head of North America professional relations at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, told Primary Care Optometry News.
“We’re also closely tied to our advocacy efforts, making sure that we’re having the right conversations and listening appropriately, so we are a part of any conversation regarding eye care health,” she said.
Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson Vision announced its Prioritize Your Eyes effort, designed to increase awareness of eye care health and the importance of an eye exam. While the CDC currently recommends against routine exams to avoid the spread of COVID-19, Alexander said the effort “can set in play continual messages for a low simmer about how eyes are the window to our systemic health. The important thing to do during this crisis is not to go silent but find a way to keep the conversation going.”
Education for students
Additionally, as many of the 2020 graduating students of optometry are unable to finish clinical rotations for their degree, Johnson & Johnson is providing 8 hours of content a week to the Student Online Clinical Cases Education Program (SOCCEP), developed by the American Academy of Optometry in partnership with the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry.
The SOCCEP will provide several weeks of live streamed and recorded 30-minute sessions during which a presenter will deliver a case study, according to information provided by the AAO and ASCO. Students will then be able to ask questions at the end of the session.
“This is a direct and rapid response to the coronavirus crisis,” AAO President Barbara Caffery, OD, PhD, FAAO, said in a press release. “We are committed to advancing excellence in eye care, and in this time of urgency, that commitment is even more important. The academy is so much more than a meeting. We have the ability to make a positive impact in the daily lives of students, optometrists and the public, and this is the first of our many initiatives that will provide exceptional education, support innovative research and disseminate knowledge to advance optometric practice and improve patient care.”
Jerry Warner, CooperVision’s executive vice president of Americas and global commercial functions, told PCON that, “at this point, the situation remains fluid as we all take the challenges day by day. There is still great uncertainty over when this will end, how it will end, and how the world will have changed. However, we have already seen a few trends emerge that have the potential to impact the future of optometry.”
These new trends include the opportunities presented by telemedicine for eye care providers, direct-to-patient shipping for contact lenses and the ongoing discussion around the lasting effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on society in general.
“Although telemedicine will never be a direct replacement for inperson eye exams, I do think that through this experience, many practices will continue to see benefits in telemedicine following the pandemic, including improved workflow and expanded capacity,” Warner said. “I do believe we’ll see shifting trends around the way we communicate — as a company, with our ECP customers and ECPs with their patients.”
Other companies have sent out letters regarding safety procedures during this critical time.
“The Novartis Ophthalmics Franchise is taking necessary steps to ensure optometrists are well-equipped to provide care for patients amidst the ‘new normal,’” Patrick Mooney, Novartis vice president and head of U.S. Ophthalmics, told PCON.
Mooney said that the company has converted the entire field team to a virtual support platform that enables them to continue partnering with doctors of optometry with access to digital tools needed to serve their patients.
“We have also strengthened our online self-service sample support via the Novartis Portal, which allows registered U.S.-based eye care professionals to request eligible samples and literature items like copay cards,” Mooney said. “In addition, to maintain a continuum of care for patients as many ODs have closed their offices or significantly reduced appointments, we are quickly working to make it easier for patients to access telehealth services, including virtual eye care consultations provided by an independent [doctor].”
Prevent Blindness emphasized in a press release the importance of seeing only patients in need of urgent or emergency consultation.
“Urgent and emergent situations may include exams, treatments and surgeries for eye injuries, retinal detachments and other eye problems resulting in acute vision loss that may be permanent if not treated sooner,” Prevent Blindness stated in the release.
The organization also advised that the FDA has encouraged all clinical trials to consider patient safety when determining recruitment and participation.
X-Cel Specialty Contacts stated in a press release that “there have not been any findings published to date regarding transmission of the virus from contact lenses; however, X-Cel has verified compliance [among employees] to all steps consistent with CDC and WHO guidance on workplace cleanliness to minimize risk.”
X-Cel has also provided details on handling, cleaning and disinfecting gas permeable and custom soft lenses on the company’s website under the “Instructions for Use” and “Package Inserts” pages.
Along with a statement on continued operation at labs and distributions centers and commitment to CDC and WHO guidelines, ABB Optical provided details on a patient outreach program and virtual resource center for eye care providers.
The free patient outreach program was designed for practices to connect with patients and inform them about direct doctor-to-patient shipping options provided by ABB Optical. Eye care providers can download a toolkit that contains social engagement posts, email communications and signage for the office that explains how to place contact lens orders.
“During this time of elevated health concerns, we’re seeing that ECPs have patients who may be hesitant to schedule an eye exam or visit a practice to pick up their contact lenses,” Tom Burke, CEO of ABB Optical Group, said in the press release. “Our direct-to-patient shipping option is a meaningful solution as we navigate through these uncertain times.”
The virtual resource center is available to ABB customers and focuses on provider education, patient outreach and practice strategy tools.
Financial webinars from OJM
David B. Mandell, JD, MBA, told PCON that the OJM Group has provided two free webinars, designed by Mandell and his partner Carole Foos, CPA, in response to questions received from physicians about personal and business finances in the face of COVID-19.
The webinars include:
“In speaking with our hundreds of physician clients, we know that many are anxious about their practice and personal finances and are looking for advice,” Mandell told PCON. “Also, most of them have some downtime right now, which they can use to become educated and take actions.”
Alcon noted its support of charitable partners serving the most vulnerable populations affected by the outbreak.
“The Alcon Foundation has reallocated funds and made monetary donations to local, national and global organizations to support meal programs for children and seniors, provide essential supplies to shelters and aid public health emergency relief efforts,” the company said in a press release. “As the public health emergency has grown in scale, Alcon has ramped up its efforts to donate personal protective equipment (PPE), while also producing additional PPE and hand sanitizers for relief efforts.”
Allergan provided a statement regarding lowered copay savings card offers for Restasis and Restasis Multidose (cyclosporine), Lumigan (bimatoprost), Combigan (brimonidine/timolol) and Alphagan P (brimonidine tartrate). This offer is available for eligible commercially insured patients between April 1 and May 31, 2020.
Additionally, Allergan has increased coupon values for all Refresh products. The Refresh brand has thus far donated $250,000 to DirectRelief to support the organization’s ongoing COVID-19 emergency relief efforts as part of the Refresh America program.
Ocular Therapeutix announced a large donation provided to local Massachusetts first responder organizations and hospitals, including hundreds of coveralls and thousands of disposable lab coats, booties, hair nets and particulate protective masks. The company has made the required adjustments to cleanrooms and, based on formulations provided by the FDA, finalized preparations to assist in the manufacture of antimicrobial formulations for hand sanitizer sprays and aerosols to donate as needed to health care facilities and first responders.
Eyevance told PCON it is shipping product samples directly to eye care practices that are still seeing patients. The company also stated that it has a virtual copay card program for all prescription products, including Zerviate (cetirizine), Tobradex ST (tobramycin/dexamethasone ophthalmic suspension 0.3%/0.05%) and Flarex (fluorometholone) to help support practices and patients. – by Talitha Bennett