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Guidance update for optometrists and patient care

Optometry Australia (OA) has provided updated clinical service advice for the current phase of the COVID-19 crisis, stating that it may now be appropriate for eyecare professionals to reschedule postponed appointments for chronic eye conditions.

In the alert sent to members, OA reiterated there has been “no enforceable directive” from the Federal Government over which specific optometry services can be offered during this stage of the lockdown period.

However, following discussions with the government, OA has previously advised that face-to-face services that can be postponed without risk to the patient’s health or well-being, should be postponed.

“As the pandemic period extends, the Commonwealth has also made clear the need to ensure that patients with chronic conditions continue to access the care necessary to manage these conditions,” OA stated.

“They are now also trying to encourage people not to neglect their less urgent health care needs that may escalate if they are not attended to. This extends to eyecare, and we encourage you to employ your clinical judgement, and work with your patients, to ensure management of chronic conditions continues and that patients whose function may be impacted without care, can access care.”

According to OA, government advice this week has reiterated that routine care for preventative purposes, or to address refractive error where there is not an explicit need, should preferably wait until further relaxation of restrictions.

“Regular reviews with patients with glaucoma, or other conditions with a risk of medium-term deterioration if not attended to, were encouraged by the advisors. It may be appropriate to now consider when patients with chronic eye conditions, whose appointments had been previously postponed, should be re-scheduled,” the organisation said.

“We remind all optometrists to implement relevant infection control and social distancing procedures and to monitor infection risk in their location.”

Telehealth prescribing

OA also provided guidance in relation to the electronic prescribing of medications via telehealth, and vision testing requirements for driver’s licenses during the pandemic.

It states that the Australian Government has advised that electronic prescribing is being fast-tracked as part of the National Health Plan for COVID-19. An electronic prescribing guide for prescribers outlines current temporary arrangements that will help patients receive medicines via telehealth.

“Essentially, as a prescriber, you will still create a paper prescription, during a telehealth consultation. This prescription will need to be signed as normal or using a valid digital signature,” OA stated.

“You can then create a clear copy of the entire prescription (a digital image such as a photo or PDF including the barcode where applicable) to send on to the patient’s pharmacy of choice via email, text or fax.”

It continued: “If your patient prefers to receive the legal paper prescription you will need to mail it to them. The copy can be sent via fax, email, or text directly to the patient’s pharmacy of choice. You will be required to retain the paper prescription for a period of two years for audit and compliance purposes.”

In relation to driver license vision testing, OA said that some states and territories have relaxed their medical certification requirements for driver licence renewals. More specific updates for each jurisdiction can be found in its Clinical FAQ.

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