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Missed appointments data brings COVID-19 impact into focus

The nation’s first glimpse into the impact of reduced optometry services due to the COVID-19 lockdown has been provided in new data from Specsavers, which saw patient attendance drop by as much as 91% during the two-month period.

In statistics provided to Insight, the optical chain has tracked the number of missed appointments and reduced Medicare services from 30 March to 31 May, as well as the number ophthalmology referrals. It is aiming to quantify the pandemic’s effect on the sector, including the subsequent backlog.

Specsavers, which only remained open for urgent and essential care across its 350 Australian optical stores, was closed to most patients for the first time ever during the COVID-19 peak. The same was true for many other providers across both corporate and independent optometry.

This chart demonstrates the drop off in ophthalmology referrals from February to May.

Dr Benjamin Ashby, Specsavers optometry director for Australia and New Zealand, said nationally there were 600,000 fewer optometry Medicare patient services from March-April compared with the same months in 2019.

Additionally, there were 40,000 fewer visual fields administered in the same period. Specsavers also recorded a 91% patient drop during the first week of its reduced care model compared with same week-long period last year. As a result, thousands of Australians missed out on the eyecare they were due.

“From an early detection perspective, year on year comparison of Medicare item 10910 shows that 166,635 Australians missed out on routine eye tests in March and April 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19,” he said.

From 30 March to 31 May, Ashby said 200,192 patients presented to Specsavers optometrists nationwide. Of those, 3,893 were referred for urgent specialist assistance and 9,298 were given non-urgent referrals.

Based on that rate, in April and May, 25,208 Specsavers patients that likely had eye conditions requiring specialist attention did not attend their appointments.

A four-week year-on-year comparison also provided insight into the post-COVID-19 backlog of patients with diabetes.

Comparison of item number 10915 between 2019 and 2020 for diabetes patients.

In April 2019, Specsavers optometrists saw 13,319 patients with diabetes for eye checks. In line with the projected growth, the company expected an average of 22,654 of these patients per month across 2020.

In February this year, it saw 21,197 patients with diabetes. Then in April only 1,386 patients with diabetes presented to its optometrists.

“This trend was seen nationwide across all optometry professionals, as reflected in the use of Medicare item 10915, which was used 10.7% more year on year in February but then 9.2% less than in March and 75.6% less than 2019 in April,” Ashby said.

“Simply comparing 10915 for 2019 vs 2020, we know that at least 2,190 patients with diabetes missed out on dilated eye examinations in March and 15,714 in April, indicating the backlog of patients with diabetes that are now in need of prioritised care.”

  • Editors note: Keep an eye out for additional statistics and information in the August issue of Insight.