Why We Continue to See Urgent Patients in Difficult Times
March 30, 2020
Today is National Doctors’ Day, a day to celebrate physicians and recognize their contributions to individual lives and communities. This day comes at a time when doctors need support more than ever. Coronavirus is changing the face of our world. It has highlighted important deficiencies in our healthcare system but has also revealed the strength of healthcare workers and administrators.
We doctors must remain committed to the medical and ethical principles that guide our everyday practices. One of these principles is to never abandon a patient in need. As ophthalmologists and optometrists, we are not on the frontline of care the way our emergency medicine and hospitalist colleagues are. I am thankful, more than ever, for the individuals who chose these professions and who are currently risking their own health to ensure patients with Covid-19 take their next breath.
However, we continue to be doctors to our patients, some of whom will develop ocular emergencies or have diseases that will result in permanent loss of vision without adequate care. As this pandemic unfolds, it is clear we are not talking about weeks but rather months of extreme societal measures to flatten the curve. A patient with a pressure of 60 will be blind in 2 weeks time. A patient with a macula-on retinal detachment could maintain full functional vision if operated on today but will likely lose all vision if left untreated for 3 months. We have all seen several instances of ocular manifestations of systemic disease, such as the patient with bilateral disc edema from a brain tumor that needs urgent surgery.
Some practices have chosen to close their doors entirely and divert all patients to the emergency room. Yet we all know an emergency room is the last place an otherwise healthy patient with an ocular issue should go. Our emergency rooms are inundated with Covid-19 patients and ER doctors do not have the time, tools or resources to handle patients with ocular disease.
Routine eye care has no place in our offices right now. Cataract removals, blepharoplasties and corneal cross linkings are important but can wait. Tube shunts, retinal detachment repairs, and laser iridotomies for acute angle closure cannot. So we continue to triage our patients safely through sophisticated telemedicine technology and we continue to see our patients in the office when they require urgent and emergent care, with extreme Covid-19 precautions. We do this because these patients do not belong in emergency rooms. We do this because these patients deserve the care we have promised as doctors to provide them. We do this simply because it is the right thing to do.
Today, on National Doctors’ Day, it is more important than ever to support our doctors who will continue to provide urgent and emergent care. We will get through this the right way if we hold strong to the belief that every one of our patients deserves to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Parul Khator, MD
Georgia Eye Partners
Eye South Partners