An Optometry Australia (OA) analysis of Medicare data has confirmed what many already suspected; optometry practices were hit hard when significantly fewer patients came through practice doors during the peak coronavirus period.
In fact, there were one million fewer general optometric services delivered in Australia from March to May 2020 than in the same three months of 2019.
According to OA, from March to May 2020, optometrists delivered 1.42 million general optometric services compared with 2.46 million for the same period in 2019.
Moreover, a 6-7% drop in services and income from Medicare was recorded across the board in 2019-2020, compared with the previous financial year.
OA also found Australian optometrists delivered 9.84 million total consultations in 2018-2019 but this dropped to 9.21 million in 2019-2020 (630,000 fewer), due to COVID-19 restrictions limiting practise.
The analysis is based on publicly available data accessible via the Federal Government’s Services Australia website.
It notes the biggest fall in consultations was recorded in April when the entire country was in lockdown, but numbers returned to normal in June, when 840,617 general optometric services were delivered; 44,000 more than in June last year.
Ms Skye Cappuccio, OA’s general manager of member support and optometry advancement, said the analysis revealed an unexpected positive.
“A very welcome surprise for us highlighted by the data analysis, is the speed with which service rates returned to rates similar to that which we would have expected if we had not been living through the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
“There had been concerns that even as restrictions eased in May and June, patients may have been reluctant to seek the eyecare they needed.”
OA revealed there were 6,259 fewer contact lens consultations, about 1,400 fewer low vision consults, nearly 7,000 fewer paediatric consults and about 3,700 fewer domiciliary visits in 2019-2020 – but foreign body services bucked the trend, up by nearly 1,852.
In June, the Australian and New Zealand Eye Foundation – a RANZCO-led charity – noted that household eye injuries were on the rise, with DIY and home-based activities gaining in popularity during the lockdowns.
But Cappuccio said a direct link couldn’t be established between the rise in foreign body services and DIY-related accidents.
“Whilst there is a notable increase in number of items that have been billed for foreign body removal, given the item was introduced only relatively recently, and annual usage has been steadily increasing, it’s difficult to speculate as to whether there may be COVID-associated impacts on billing rates of this particular item,” she said.