Philippe Sourdille MD
Philippe Sourdille MD, Nantes, France and a Past President of ESCRS, says clear communication is the key to reassuring patients.
As the global battle to contain the spread of COVID-19 continues apace, many health care providers, including ophthalmologists, are discouraging routine visits and seeing only emergency patients.
As has been confirmed in the recent ESCRS reports from our colleagues around Europe, we are seeing a very significant drop of “usual” non-COVID-19 related emergencies. The main reason, of course, is obviously not a sudden drop in acute or chronic morbidities but rather the patients’ fear of being contaminated by the virus if they come to the hospital.
This is further complicated by the strict recommendations for social distancing and confinement enforced by national governments as they try to flatten the epidemic curve and prevent their health systems being completely overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
In the meantime, choroidal new vessels continue to grow, retinal detachments involving the macula occur, visual fields deteriorate, and other sources of infection as well as many other acute or chronic pathologies develop.
The risk to our patients’ vision increases the longer this situation continues. This is a ticking time bomb, as our offices will be faced with a sudden and overwhelming number of complicated cases to add to the large backlog of usual treatments and surgeries when the confinement period finally ends.
Crisis heaped upon crisis
A huge effort has been made by our colleagues to secure offices and optimise examination conditions in order to avoid contamination. The ESCRS along with national health authorities and ophthalmic societies have issued practical recommendations and disseminated a variety of useful propositions.
Protecting ourselves and our profession, however, is only one part of the equation. We also need to communicate clearly and effectively to our patients, to ensure that they understand and are fully aware of the additional precautions being taken to ensure their safety when they visit the clinic or hospital.
All means of communication should be used to get the word out to our patients.
We can open a dedicated phone line to inform and reassure patients when they call our offices. We can provide up-to-date safety information on clinic websites and have a doctor on hand to monitor traffic during the day and field queries and make recommendations.
At our clinics in Nantes and Limoges, for instance, we are displaying the following information:
“We are taking all necessary measures to reduce any risk of vision loss for our patients arising from delayed consultations and treatment during the current crisis. Urgent on-site consultations or tele-consultations can be arranged as necessary.
We have adapted our practices and examinations to protect our patients and our staff from COVID-19. Your safety is our primary concern and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure optimal safety and prevent contamination during your visit. These steps will be continued as long as the situation requires.
- Our personnel strictly adhere to safety protocols and hygiene measures for the protection of our patients
- Appointments are given in order to avoid queues and to ensure the clear separation of potentially contaminated and non-contaminated patients
- Waiting rooms have been modified to create safe distances between patients
- Our examination techniques have been modified in accordance with new optimal safety rules
- Should you require surgery, all anaesthetists, surgeons, and nurses have been specially trained in preventing COVID-19 exposure and ensure your safety
In addition, we also provide specific question-and-answer information sheets covering different acute or chronic conditions.
Patients are frightened and we need to address this fear before they lose vision through inaction or anxiety.
Clear communication is the key to reassuring our patients and to make sure that we don’t add another potential healthcare crisis to the existing one.
We want to hear from you with stories, suggestions or ideas, national recommendations and guidelines. Please send all your items to COVID19@escrs.org or use wetransfer.com for larger files