Michael C Knorz, MD
When the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were initially eased and Germany began to reopen in the middle of May, the country had one of the lowest death rates from the novel coronavirus in the world.
By the time June was ending, Michael C Knorz, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology, FreeVis LASIK Center at the University Eye Clinic, Mannheim, Germany, said that he had essentially taken care of the backlog of cases of laser vision correction (LVC) that had been deferred during the shutdown. In addition, new inquiries from patients interested in a refractive procedure seemed to have dropped minimally relative to pre-pandemic days.
When asked about his thoughts regarding how COVID-19 will impact the future of LVC, however, Dr Knorz offered a dichotomous perspective.
He told EuroTimes: “I am an optimistic person, and I do not believe that COVID-19 by itself will have a significant impact on laser refractive surgery. We could live with it, just like we live with the flu.”
Yet, Dr Knorz qualified his comment by noting it represents a rational view. His response based on an emotional reaction is more grim.
“From what I see, the whole world is in a panic mode today and seems to be grossly overreacting to the scientific facts. This extreme overreaction will cause an economic downturn that will affect laser refractive surgery in the same negative way it will affect other aspects of our lives, and it may lead to a global depression,” Dr Knorz said.
“I truly hope that politicians will come to their senses, but we will have to wait and see the course ahead. A reliable prediction of the future of laser refractive surgery is not possible today. In the coming months we will see what happens.”
Dr Knorz reopened his practice to elective surgery April 20. Patients were contacted to reschedule the LVC procedures that were cancelled because of the lockdown, and only a few decided they would not go forward.
“By the end of June, over 90% of the patients whose LVC procedure was deferred had undergone their surgery,” Dr Knorz said.
Interest in LVC remains. Relative to the months preceding the pandemic, Dr Knorz said he has seen a drop of only 5-to-10% in the number of inquiries for consultation visits.
Dr Knorz believes that unemployment with its accompanying loss of income will be the primary factor determining uptake of LVC going forward.
“In Germany, we are quite lucky because unemployment is not a big issue yet. Job loss, however, was the main reason given by the approximately 10% of our patients who decided not to go ahead with their planned surgery when we called them back to reschedule it,” he said.
Dr Knorz said that so far, he has not seen any age-related difference in patient willingness to proceed with the elective procedure.
“Both our lens patients in the 50-to-70 year age range who are candidates for refractive lens exchange and our LVC patients are mostly willing to come for surgery,” he observed.
COVID-19 has necessitated new processes to ensure a safe environment, and making patients aware of the strategies being implemented is critical to their willingness to attend office visits and proceed with surgery. At the FreeVis LASIK Center, all patients are given a surgical mask and sanitising gel to disinfect their hands at entry, and no more than six patients are allowed in the 20m-squared waiting room. Disinfection of all contacted surfaces and instruments is being done in view of patients, and all documents are now being handled electronically with Adobe Sign used for informed consent and invoices.
“The feedback we have received from patients is that they feel very safe,” said Dr Knorz.
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