The Coronavirus has caused all non-essential services to shut down temporarily, and optometry clinics offering routine eye exams are included in that shut-down. Eventually, however, the ban will be lifted and optometrists will be able to re-open their clinics. Unfortunately, that does not mean it’ll be back to business as usual. The coronavirus will still be circulating at some level, so before going in for your next eye exam, you should be asking – is my optometrist Coronavirus ready?
I am an optometrist living and working in Ontario, Canada, so I will be writing from the perspective of the laws and regulations here. However, most of what I will share applies to all of Canada and the United States.
What To Do About Eye Care During The Lock-Down
The lock-down has created a lot of confusion about what type of cases optometrists are allowed to see. On March 16th, 2020, the College of Optometrists of Ontario instructed optometrists to restrict in-person care to urgent cases only – provided that they have access to proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
This means that during the shut-down it may be extremely difficult to find an optometrist willing to see you in-person. Many offices are funnelling all patients to 1 or 2 optometrists in the area that have the necessary PPE. Your best bet is to call around to different offices in your area. If the office you’re talking to doesn’t provide urgent care, ask them if they know an office that does.
Keep in mind that your sense of an urgent situation will be quite different than that of any optometrist you speak to on the phone. If your reading glasses don’t seem strong enough, or if your eyes are getting tired at the computer, the likelihood of anyone accepting you at this time is very low.
When The Shut-Down Is Over
Eventually, the shut-down will be lifted and optometrist will begin providing routine eye care again. However, this will be long before the coronavirus has completely disappeared from our communities. Meaning, every optometrist will have to take extra measures in order to protect themselves and others from contracting and spreading coronavirus.
Before heading in to get an exam, it may be wise to ask some questions in order to find out if your optometrist is coronavirus ready.
Controlling Patient Flow
Even after the shut-down is over, physical distancing rules will still be in effect. In order to comply with physical distancing there cannot be waiting rooms filled with patients all sitting knee to knee.
Your optometrist will have to create at least 6 feet (2 meters) of space between waiting room chairs and disinfect each chair after every use. Ideally, the optometrist would adjust his/her schedule so that there is never more than 1 person in the waiting room at a time.
Personal Protective Equipment
Nobody knows exactly how long the pandemic will last and how many waves there will be. In order to prevent the coronavirus from resurging, when we begin to re-open the economy, it’ll be important to continue to dawn personal protective equipment when knowingly coming into prolonged close contact with others.
Ideally, your optometrist’s coronavirus battle chest should include face masks, glasses or safety glasses, disposable gloves & slit lamp breath shields.
According to the College of Optometrists of Ontario, it is preferable for the optometrist to wear an N95 mask. However, since they may be in very short supply and in critical demand in hospitals, surgical masks or face coverings would also help.
When you call to make your appointment, ask if they give out masks for patients to wear during the eye exam. If not, it would be advisable for you to bring your own as well. Your risk is at a minimum when both you and your optometrist are wearing masks or face coverings.
If you do not see your optometrist change his/her mask after every patient, that is fine. The same mask can be worn all day – or until lunch and then a new one after lunch.
Your optometrist should be wearing disposable gloves and changing them between every patient. You may also request a pair or bring your own, as eye exams tend to require you to hold certain objects like an occluder, a reading card, trial frame, etc.
You should be able to see your optometrist wash his/her hands and put on a fresh pair of gloves as these need to be changed after each patient.
Slit Lamp Breath Shield
A slit lamp is a piece of equipment that optometrists use to examine the health of your eyes. During the slit lamp examination, both you and the optometrists are sitting very close and facing each other. One’s breath can easily reach the other during slit-lamp examination
A slit lamp breath shield is a physical barrier between the optometrist and the patient that can be very helpful in preventing the transmission of viruses from one to the other.
Stringent Use of Alcohol Disinfectant Wipes
The eye exam room can see anywhere from a hand-full to 30 or more patients per day. Each one of those patients touches and uses the same equipment. During an eye exam, equipment touches the patient’s forehead, cheeks, nose, chin, hands, and of course, eyeballs.
It is crucial that all surfaces that touch a patient’s skin be disinfected before the next patient comes. Optometrists usually use isopropyl alcohol 70% (or higher) for this. Personally, I think it’s good practice to disinfect surfaces with the patient present in order to put everyone’s mind at ease.
Disinfecting The Room After Each Patient
It is not enough to only disinfect every item after every patient. The room itself must be disinfected as well. As we know, COVID-19 and other viruses travel by droplets that settle on things like counters, tables, chairs, pens, keyboards, phones, door handles, etc. These virus-containing droplets can be on any surface in the room, so when a patient leaves, the room must be wiped down. This is typically done using disinfectant wipes such as Lysol.
Constant disinfection of the entire exam room will increase the amount of time needed by the optometrist for every patient. On a typical day, it’s not unusual for your optometrist to be late for your appointment. With all of these extra coronavirus safety measures in place, it may be wise to budget a little more time for your eye exam this time around.
Safety Procedures In The Optical Dispensary
This article has only discussed your optometrist’s coronavirus readiness in the exam room, but what about in the optical dispensary? There’s a whole slew of things to keep an eye out for there as well. You can read about these measures here.
Before your next eye exam, you should be asking – is my optometrist coronavirus ready? Give your eye doctor’s office a call or email to ask about things like masks, disposable gloves, slit lamp breath shields and proper room disinfecting procedures. If you’re waiting for your exam in the waiting room and notice that the optometrist is not wearing a mask or gloves, and taking patients one directly after the other with no time in between to disinfect surfaces, you may want to reconsider being in that exam room.
Have you had an eye exam recently? Was your optometrist coronavirus ready? What precautions did he/she take or not take? Let me know in the comments below!