Survey says: Doctors of optometry step up as pandemic sets in

May 14, 2020
Overwhelming majority of doctors of optometry provide emergent and urgent care amid devastating COVID-19 crisis.
Doctors of optometry step up as pandemic sets in

At considerable sacrifice, doctors of optometry continued to deliver emergency and urgent care during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, according to a new survey by the AOA Health Policy Institute (HPI)."It was gratifying–yet not surprising–to see such a high percentage of doctors of optometry keeping their doors open for emergent and urgent care.

The HPI conducted the survey between April 22 and May 6 to provide a snapshot of how doctors of optometry were responding to the health care crisis. There were 1,034 responses from doctors practicing in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.

Among the key findings?

That 80% of doctors of optometry were providing emergent and urgent care services to patients during the pandemic and only 11% were not providing patient care at all. And they were practicing at a cost.

The survey found that more than two-thirds of doctors were seeing less than 5% of their typical pre-pandemic patient volume and three out of four doctors had personally taken a reduction in income to protect the practice during the pandemic.

"It was gratifying—yet not surprising—to see such a high percentage of doctors of optometry keeping their doors open for emergent and urgent care," HPI Chair Steven Loomis, O.D., says. "Because the vast majority of care provided by optometrists is preventative and well-care (care that was suspended in March due to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), few if any of our colleagues had a business model that would be profitable providing emergent and urgent care only.

"Yet, that is exactly what doctors of optometry did," Dr. Loomis says. "Clearly, meeting the needs of patients and keeping them out of emergency departments was the priority over profits."

Why the survey?

The survey by the health care think tank was designed to capture useful information at an unprecedented time.

"The HPI is an important source of information for the profession and the public regarding current public health issues and trends," Dr. Loomis says. "And we believed that it was appropriate and needed to gather information on how doctors of optometry are providing important care to their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how optometrists plan to continue to provide that care going forward in a very changed environment."

Additional findings include:  

  • The top two emergent/urgent care delivered by doctors of optometry were foreign body removals and eye infections/conjunctivitis.
  • 25% of the emergent and urgent care provided by doctors of optometry was surgical. 92% of doctors providing emergent/urgent surgical care said it was for foreign body removals.
  • Doctors of optometry estimated nearly 60% of the patients they treated during the pandemic would have otherwise sought care at an emergency department or other urgent care setting had the doctors of optometry not been providing care.

Doctors of optometry relieved the burden on emergency departments overburdened with pandemic care.

"It is clear from the survey that doctors of optometry have played a key role in providing critical care to Americans during this crisis," Dr. Loomis says. "It is also clear that while patients and doctors alike will experience some changes in the delivery of care, optometrists will continue in their role in providing that critical care."

Source of reliable information

The HPI survey also revealed that a majority of doctors of optometry say they received the most helpful and reliable information on relief programs and other issues on the pandemic from the AOA or their state affiliates.

"They relied on the AOA and the state affiliates for critical information more than 10 times that of any other source including news media and other professional associations," Dr. Loomis says.

Stay informed with the AOA's COVID-19 guidance and resources

AOA members can connect with vendors through AOAExcel ®'s group purchasing organization (GPO) for long-term access to hospital-grade, quality-controlled PPE at competitive pricing.

The AOA continues to closely monitor all developments in the U.S. public health response to COVID-19, as well as institute an all-out mobilization on behalf of the profession that includes not only 24/7 advocacy for optometry, but also launching an  unprecedented, multifaceted relief and recovery package.

Given the evolving nature of this pandemic, the AOA remains committed to providing the most up-to-date information, relevant care guidance and resources, and timely reports on federal actions through  AOA's COVID-19 Crisis Response page. This online resource includes:    

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