It’s no secret that the coronavirus has affected every single sector of the economy, and mostly for the worse. This includes the medical field — and ophthalmology. While hospitals and other clinics are feeling overwhelmed, ophthalmologists are feeling a different sort of pinch.
To discuss the effects of the coronavirus on ophthalmic clinical practice, we spoke with Dr. Sudhir Singh from Rajasthan, India and Dr. William Trattler, from Miami, Florida.
Covid-19’s Impact on Ophthalmic Business
The virus has had a major impact on business, with customers opting to stay away from clinics and all elective surgeries cancelled. Dr. Trattler noted: “We have scaled down our 15 ophthalmology and three optometry practices to just a few doctors, seeing only urgent and emergency patients. We have halted all elective surgery.” He continued: “Those (doctors) seeing patients are wearing PPE. It has been a dramatic shift in our practice in just a week, but something that we needed to do to try to keep as many people home as possible to limit the spread of Covid-19.”
Dr. Singh paints a similar picture from India. “The coronavirus has impacted business very badly in India also. Elective surgeries were suspended as of two weeks ago and will remain suspended until April 15, 2020, as India is under lockdown. Only emergency services are open in eye hospitals.”
He also points out that expenses have not dropped: Doctors still have plenty of bills to pay. “There is no business, but expenses like staff salaries, house taxes/rents, electricity bills, every month installments (EMI), annual maintenance contract (AMC) fees and other expenses are on as usual,” he said.
Covid-19’s Effects on Patients’ Behavior
Of course, people everywhere are spooked — and many are wary of even leaving the house, much less venturing out for treatment.
Dr. Trattler confirmed this sentiment among his patients. “Patients are concerned, and even if we were to allow non-urgent patients to come for their visit — most, if not all, would prefer staying at home right now.”
The anxiety is universal. “They (patients) are concerned about falling ill due to corona infections,” said Dr. Singh. “They are following the measures taken by our government like cooperating in our three-week national lockdown up to April 15th by staying at home and practicing social distancing and good hygiene.”
Covid-19’s Long-term Effects on the Ophthalmic Industry
Imagining the world after the virus is like trying to guess what’s in a snow globe just after it’s been shaken. Some time will need to pass before the picture becomes clearer. What is clear now, however, is that there will most certainly be long-term effects from the virus over the coming months and years.
“The foremost (effect) is on the country’s economy,” said Dr. Singh. “It is going to be affected very badly. It will have a cascading effect on the industry, employment, salaries and patients’ paying capacity. So a patient may change their health priorities in the form of delaying elective procedures, and going for economical procedures rather than expensive procedures.”
Dr. Trattler also shared his uncertainty: “It is so hard to know at this time,” he said. “I am hopeful things will get back to normal once a therapy is confirmed, or the crisis ends. I am unsure if this will be weeks or months. My main concern is that even when there is news that the crisis is over — there will still be patients who are concerned and not willing to go out.”
The future of the economy will play a huge role in the future of the ophthalmic industry, as well as all others. But in this industry, they’ll affect those who have committed the most financially. In Dr. Singh’s words: “These (economic) factors will affect those who have invested in expensive technologies and big eye hospital setups more.“
It wasn’t all roses in Dr. Singh’s neck of the woods before the virus spread to India, either. “The industry was already suffering from the worldwide economic slowdown and all businesses were facing various problems. The coronavirus pandemic is a terrible blow to an already sick industry,” he said.
A lot will change in the next several months, and especially in the near future. Dr. Singh does hold out cautious optimism for the future. “The Indian government has handled the situation quite well and taken all stringent measures, such as putting our 1.3 billion population under national lockdown. We have suspended all modes of international, national, state and city passenger transportation to contain the corona pandemic,” he noted.
He continued: “Despite all this, the next three weeks are going to be very crucial for India. The impact on the Indian economy will be decided by how this coronavirus pandemic is going to affect the Indian population. So far, there has been a fear of a further slowdown in the industry but there is no panic. Each and every sector is following the directions and initiatives are taken by our government.”
Is There a Silver Lining to Covid-19?
Despite the dread and gloom that has filled the news, a silver lining remains to this cloud. For many, there’s been a reevaluation of priorities — as well as more time to spend with those closest to them.
“This coronavirus pandemic will teach many positive lessons to each individual, family, society and nation,” said Dr. Singh. “It will change the perceptions of all aforementioned. The individuals will re-think about the priorities regarding personal life, family life and professional life, and will adjust time spent on each judiciously. They will also learn to differentiate between minimum basic life requirements and luxuries. They will also learn to accept the things they can’t change, they will have the courage to change the things they can. Finally, families will learn to give quality time to each other.
Dr. Trattler echoed Dr. Singh’s views on family. “The one positive has been more family time,” he observed. “People are connecting with friends, and most are spending more time than ever with their families. So, there is often a silver lining — and hopefully spending time with family can help reduce stress levels.”
In the words of Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” We sincerely hope everyone is staying safe and sane during these strange times.