Optometry practice changes during COVID-19: Northeast response

Jennifer Gould, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO
Jennifer Gould

Primary Care Optometry News previously spoke to doctors of optometry around the country about changes they have made in their practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, including canceling non-emergency visits and introducing telemedicine to their clinics.

In this follow-up report, we spoke to four ODs who practice within several hours of New York City.

“Being located in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S.’s COVID19 crisis, the University Eye Center (UEC) knew we needed to be creative in maintaining care for our patients, to help reduce the burden on the local emergency rooms of managing ocular emergencies and minimize risk to our community,” Jennifer Gould, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO, chief of advanced care services at UEC and assistant clinical professor at the State University of New York College of Optometry, told PCON. “Over the next few weeks, we plan to roll out various types of virtual patient visits.”

Gould said that the center’s initial priority was urgent visits. Their first patient seen using a telemedicine platform was presumed positive for COVID-19 with a unilateral swollen eye. This method, she said, allowed them to effectively diagnose and treat the patient while minimizing potential community exposure to the virus.

“As we expand our virtual visits in the coming weeks, we will be able to offer high-quality care in areas such as glaucoma, dry eye, myopia control management and vision therapy,” she said. “The breadth of services available will also include those offered by the social work team, who will be doing virtual visits with our more at-risk patients to check on their well-being and current needs. During a time when social distancing is imperative, being able to provide face-to-face interactions between patients and providers remotely will help ensure the continuity of high quality, compassionate and safe patient care during this time of crisis, as well as beyond.”

Christopher J. Quinn, OD
Christopher J .Quinn

Christopher J. Quinn, OD, a PCON Editorial Board member, former American Optometric Association president and CEO of Omni Ophthalmic Management Consultants, a referral center that provides medical and surgical patient care, also expressed concern regarding the burden in the New York City area.

“As we are in the epicenter of the outbreak here in New Jersey and New York, we remain open for urgent and emergency care,” he said. “Because we service the practices of hundreds of community optometrists we remain committed to providing essential emergency services. We have deferred all elective surgery and routine medical follow-up care. We have implemented enhanced infection control procedures, including office disinfection, socially distancing patients, custom slit lamp shields and personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Quinn said that they are following all CDC guidance and N.J. Department of Health guidance, while also exploring techniques to sterilize and reuse PPE.

“In addition, we have made arrangements with local hospitals to transfer anesthesia machines from our ambulatory service center to be used as ventilators,” he said. “Our OD and MD clinicians are providing selfless essential care during this crisis in as safe an environment as possible.”

J. James Thimons, OD
J. James Thimons

Doctors at Ophthalmic Consultants of Connecticut (OCC), which also provides medical and surgical patient care services in the New York City metroplex, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic according to input from the CDC, state agencies, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, American Optometric Association and American Academy of Ophthalmology, according to J. James Thimons, OD, medical director and founder of OCC, chairman of the National Glaucoma Society and PCON Editorial Board member.

“We have condensed our patient care activities from four offices to one office and limited the hours to half days three times per week,” he said.

Additionally, the office reduced support staff to essential levels and has deferred elective surgeries. They remain available for triage and referral 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and have had “a robust response from referring doctors and patients,” he said. “At this juncture we are, like all practitioners, awaiting direction from state and federal officials as to when we will be able to assume a more normative pattern of patient care.”

James Deom, OD
James Deom

James Deom, OD, with Hazelton Eye Specialists in Hazle Township, Pa., said he is seeing urgent and emergent cases in office 2 to 3 days a week and taking half days the remainder of the week for emergent calls if needed.

“The most exciting opportunity during this time is without a doubt telehealth,” he said. “I have spent hours with my staff, manager and partner doctors designing and implementing our telehealth approach. We have used mass communication techniques like text and email as well as traditional marketing techniques like newspaper outreach to let our patient base know we offer this.”

Deom found dry eye management lends itself well to telehealth. As patients spend more time indoors and “undoubtedly on their devices more, this spells disaster for the ocular surface,” he told PCON. “Letting patients know we are available for dry eye evaluations via telehealth is a great way to keep the practice viable in these tough times.

“With great assessment tools like easy questionnaires and high-quality videos, a continuation of care or even initial evaluation can be possible,” he added.

He said the practice also offers patients the increased discount card savings now being offered by some manufacturers. – by Talitha Bennett

Disclosure: No products or companies that would require financial disclosure are mentioned in this article.

Jennifer Gould, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO
Jennifer Gould

Primary Care Optometry News previously spoke to doctors of optometry around the country about changes they have made in their practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, including canceling non-emergency visits and introducing telemedicine to their clinics.

In this follow-up report, we spoke to four ODs who practice within several hours of New York City.

“Being located in New York City, the epicenter of the U.S.’s COVID19 crisis, the University Eye Center (UEC) knew we needed to be creative in maintaining care for our patients, to help reduce the burden on the local emergency rooms of managing ocular emergencies and minimize risk to our community,” Jennifer Gould, OD, MS, FAAO, Dipl ABO, chief of advanced care services at UEC and assistant clinical professor at the State University of New York College of Optometry, told PCON. “Over the next few weeks, we plan to roll out various types of virtual patient visits.”

Gould said that the center’s initial priority was urgent visits. Their first patient seen using a telemedicine platform was presumed positive for COVID-19 with a unilateral swollen eye. This method, she said, allowed them to effectively diagnose and treat the patient while minimizing potential community exposure to the virus.

“As we expand our virtual visits in the coming weeks, we will be able to offer high-quality care in areas such as glaucoma, dry eye, myopia control management and vision therapy,” she said. “The breadth of services available will also include those offered by the social work team, who will be doing virtual visits with our more at-risk patients to check on their well-being and current needs. During a time when social distancing is imperative, being able to provide face-to-face interactions between patients and providers remotely will help ensure the continuity of high quality, compassionate and safe patient care during this time of crisis, as well as beyond.”

Christopher J. Quinn, OD
Christopher J .Quinn

Christopher J. Quinn, OD, a PCON Editorial Board member, former American Optometric Association president and CEO of Omni Ophthalmic Management Consultants, a referral center that provides medical and surgical patient care, also expressed concern regarding the burden in the New York City area.

“As we are in the epicenter of the outbreak here in New Jersey and New York, we remain open for urgent and emergency care,” he said. “Because we service the practices of hundreds of community optometrists we remain committed to providing essential emergency services. We have deferred all elective surgery and routine medical follow-up care. We have implemented enhanced infection control procedures, including office disinfection, socially distancing patients, custom slit lamp shields and personal protective equipment (PPE).”

PAGE BREAK

Quinn said that they are following all CDC guidance and N.J. Department of Health guidance, while also exploring techniques to sterilize and reuse PPE.

“In addition, we have made arrangements with local hospitals to transfer anesthesia machines from our ambulatory service center to be used as ventilators,” he said. “Our OD and MD clinicians are providing selfless essential care during this crisis in as safe an environment as possible.”

J. James Thimons, OD
J. James Thimons

Doctors at Ophthalmic Consultants of Connecticut (OCC), which also provides medical and surgical patient care services in the New York City metroplex, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic according to input from the CDC, state agencies, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, American Optometric Association and American Academy of Ophthalmology, according to J. James Thimons, OD, medical director and founder of OCC, chairman of the National Glaucoma Society and PCON Editorial Board member.

“We have condensed our patient care activities from four offices to one office and limited the hours to half days three times per week,” he said.

Additionally, the office reduced support staff to essential levels and has deferred elective surgeries. They remain available for triage and referral 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and have had “a robust response from referring doctors and patients,” he said. “At this juncture we are, like all practitioners, awaiting direction from state and federal officials as to when we will be able to assume a more normative pattern of patient care.”

James Deom, OD
James Deom

James Deom, OD, with Hazelton Eye Specialists in Hazle Township, Pa., said he is seeing urgent and emergent cases in office 2 to 3 days a week and taking half days the remainder of the week for emergent calls if needed.

“The most exciting opportunity during this time is without a doubt telehealth,” he said. “I have spent hours with my staff, manager and partner doctors designing and implementing our telehealth approach. We have used mass communication techniques like text and email as well as traditional marketing techniques like newspaper outreach to let our patient base know we offer this.”

Deom found dry eye management lends itself well to telehealth. As patients spend more time indoors and “undoubtedly on their devices more, this spells disaster for the ocular surface,” he told PCON. “Letting patients know we are available for dry eye evaluations via telehealth is a great way to keep the practice viable in these tough times.

“With great assessment tools like easy questionnaires and high-quality videos, a continuation of care or even initial evaluation can be possible,” he added.

He said the practice also offers patients the increased discount card savings now being offered by some manufacturers. – by Talitha Bennett

Disclosure: No products or companies that would require financial disclosure are mentioned in this article.

    See more from COVID-19 Resource Center