How Often is Telehealth Being Used in Ophthalmology amid the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is the use of telehealth in ophthalmology comparable to other specialties? A study endeavored to analyze the utilization of telehealth by ophthalmologists during COVID. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) 2021 annual meeting.


To conduct this study, Ravi S. Parikh and colleagues analyzed insurance claims data for ophthalmology specialty code, principal diagnosis code, physician National Provider Identifier, date of service and Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System codes. In total, the analysis included 235,327 ophthalmic visits from September 1, 2019, to March 14, 2020 (pre-pandemic), and 127,028 ophthalmic visits from March 15, 2020, to September 1, 2020 (during pandemic).


The results showed that telehealth accounted for only 0.58% of ophthalmic visits over the time period prior to the onset of the pandemic, and only 1.6% of the ophthalmic visits during the pandemic. Specifically, cornea and external disease conditions accounted for 48% of teleophthalmology encounters, but only 13.2% of in-person visits. Retina and vitreous conditions accounted for 16.8% of telehealth and 38.6% of in-person visits, and glaucoma accounted for 13.4% and 23.8% of visits, respectively.


While ophthalmologists increased their usage of telehealth during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, use was low relative to other specialties and decreased as time progressed,” the researchers concluded. “Telehealth was less utilized for diseases of the retina and vitreous and for glaucoma and cataract.”


Source: Parikh R. COVID-19 and Utilization of Teleophthalmology (CUT Study Group): An Analysis of Trends and Diagnoses. Poster 249. Published for AAO 2021; Nov. 12-15, 2021, New Orleans, LA.