There may be a COVID-19 vaccine soon, or we may never get one. We may have to continue strict social distancing and disinfection protocols for years, or we may not. We all agree that there is inherent uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and we all can agree on two things with absolute certainty. First, the day-to-day running of our practices is, and will continue to be, fundamentally different. Second, patients still need eye care and will now need to have it delivered in this fundamentally different environment.
Practicing Myopia Management Now and in the Future
One group of patients who will escalate in their need for eye care, whether or not excess digital device use is contributory, is myopic kids. Here’s what you’ll need to do to establish a myopia management practice during and after the pandemic.
In our current environment, acknowledge and prepare for every myopic child to be accompanied by a parent or, in many cases, by both parents, who will insist that they attend their kid’s visits. Therefore, in a myopia management practice, your current primary care scheduling paradigm and physical distancing strategies must be tweaked for this inevitable occurrence.
Next, overcommunicating with parents in advance of their child’s appointment is highly recommended. This was the case pre-pandemic, but it is now essential. Parents should be aware and should alert their kids that the practitioner and staff will be wearing masks, gloves, etc. This is especially true for established patients who will be returning to your “new” office. Additionally, and related to this, doing as much myopia management education as possible before patients and parents arrive is helpful. Every minute that parents spend at home learning about what will happen in your office cuts down on their time in your practice. Videos are a great way to accomplish this.
Social distancing has a time element that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has hinted at being 15 minutes. Therefore, anything that can be done to limit your own, your staff’s, your patients’, and their parents’ interaction time is advisable. One great way to accomplish this is with telehealth.
Of course, much of myopia management can’t yet be done with telehealth—for example, essential data collection such as axial length measurements, corneal topography, and cycloplegic refraction. However, when we’ve done time evaluations of typical cases, we’ve found that during what might be a one-hour encounter, it’s likely that less than 30 minutes is spent collecting data or interacting with patients. The majority of the time, especially for new patients, is spent talking to parents—explaining why myopia management matters and how your recommended treatment plan will address the issue, expectations around payment and scheduling, and many other time-consuming topics. All of that can happen virtually, and you can use the virtual format to share videos and other visuals that will help to educate parents before their visit to the practice. Additionally, this approach can help “take out of the queue” those parents who are predisposed to not treat their children.
For established patients, telehealth can also be used to monitor visual acuity and compliance with contact lens care regimens and with drop dosing schedules as well as to perform a high-level external examination. New patients who were treated with any type of contact lens and who have initial application and removal jitters can do a virtual refresher course to help them handle their lenses. Practitioners can create their own videos for lens care and for application and removal and can review them virtually with parents and kids while they are at home.
We’ve all likely attended many webinars since the pandemic started. Use this current “at-home online learning” mindset to educate prospective parents about your myopia management services via parent-appropriate education webinars.
By adding these strategies, COVID-19 might someday be viewed as having a positive effect on your myopia management practice. CLS