Nordic countries have been less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than other European nations. Thus far in Sweden, there is not a mandatory lockdown, and variability describes the current situation for ophthalmology practice, said Anders Behndig, MD, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology, Umeå University Hospital, Umeå, Sweden. Dr Behndig spoke in an interview with EuroTimes.
How is the pandemic affecting ophthalmologists in their daily practice?
Hospital clinics remain open, but some private practices are closed. Closures are more common in the larger cities in southern Sweden, such as in Stockholm and Gothenburg, and less in the north where population density is lower and there have been fewer cases of COVID-19. Yet, some private practices in major cities in the south are seeing patients and continuing with routine cataract surgeries.
At Umeå University Hospital, we are cancelling routine visits for patients at-risk for COVID-19 and anyone who has symptoms of the infection. Some patients choose themselves not to come in. That is particularly true of younger patients, such as the younger adults I see for keratoconus.
Patients needing emergency treatment and complex cases are almost always referred to larger hospitals. Because those facilities remain open, care for these individuals has not been impacted.
Have changes been implemented to protect personnel and patients who come for a visit or need surgery?
Extensive modifications have not been made, but we have introduced some extra precautions, such as placing plastic shields on the microscopes and using alcohol for handwashing.
Because patients receiving intravitreal injections tend to be at-risk for COVID-19 because they are older or diabetic, we have moved the clinic for those procedures to an area of the hospital where it can its own entrance.
Has the pandemic affected trainees and research?
Training is continuing for ophthalmology residents although they may be seeing fewer patients. Laboratory research in ophthalmology has generally closed down. Clinical trials are still ongoing, and we are still seeing patients for their follow-up visits if they are willing to come to the clinic.
Once the crisis is over, do you anticipate changes in ophthalmology?
I do. We have discovered that it is feasible to replace in-person meetings with telephone or online video-conferencing. Similarly, graduate students can do their dissertation defense presentations to a remote audience. These digital tools save costs and time associated with travel, and so hopefully we can continue to take advantage of them in the future when appropriate. We have also implemented more online lectures for medical students, which is also proving to work well.
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