COVID-19 caused a major disruption to the momentum of glaucoma detection in Australia. With most optometric services closed or only open for urgent and critical care, there were 600,000 fewer optometry Medicare patient services from March-April compared to the months in 2019. Also, 40,000 fewer visual fields were administered in the same period.

From 30 March – 31 May 2020, 200,192 patients presented to Specsavers optometrists nationwide. Of those, 5,047 were glaucoma suspects, referred for non-urgent specialist care and 556 glaucoma suspects received urgent referrals.

Based on this, in April and May, 25,208 Specsavers patients that likely had eye conditions requiring specialist attention did not attend their appointments. Of those, it is estimated that 3,807 patients who would have been referred as non-urgent glaucoma suspects and 526 patients who would have been referred as urgent glaucoma suspects missed out on the care they would have received otherwise.

From an early detection perspective, year on year comparison of Medicare item 10910 shows that compared to 2019, 166,635 fewer Australians had routine eye tests in March and April 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19. This patient base is where, through Specsavers’ systematic approach to eye care, early, initial detections of glaucoma and other degenerative eye conditions are being detected.

Thankfully, the fight against COVID-19 is being won and the necessary closures and restrictions to eyecare set to flatten the curve are being lifted by Federal and State Governments. As seen in the data, there is pent-up demand for optometric services and this has put many patients not seen at risk.

Specsavers is focussed on providing a safe environment for patients as routine care resumes, including a modified practice environment that strictly follows health department guidelines.

As an eye health industry, we need to balance the pent-up demand, prioritising those with known conditions but also making time for those with undiagnosed eye conditions such as glaucoma by factoring routine eye tests into day-to-day bookings.