Web Exclusive: The Pandemic and Elective Procedures: A Year Later

Three ophthalmologists discuss why they believe their numbers are back up
by Steve Lenier, contributing editor
            At Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, revenue for quarters 1, 3, and 4, 2020 were up significantly over 2019, but quarter 2 was down 50% because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, notes Robert Maloney, MD, of the Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute, in Los Angeles
            “If the pandemic hadn’t hit, 2020 would have been up probably 15% from 2019,” he explains.
            The Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute isn’t alone. In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Cataract and Refractive Surgery shows that the discontinuance of elective ophthalmic surgeries at U.S. hospital outpatient departments, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a major loss of income.
            The good news: The Refractive Surgery Council (, reports an uptick in procedures – 16.3% year-over-year – in the last quarter of 2020, citing mask-wearing and fogging glasses, dissatisfaction with appearance in glasses on Zoom calls and discontent with contact lens wear, due to ocular dryness from long hours of screen time. 
            “It’s clear people are ready to take back control of their lives and make decisions with self-care at the top of their priorities,” points out RSC Chairman Jim Wachtman, in a press release issued by the organization. “Our data indicates pandemic fatigue is gradually being replaced with optimism now that we have rapid testing and vaccines to help in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. It’s a perfect time — especially for those working from home and saving money — to have laser vision correction surgery.”
            Here, Dr. Maloney and two of his colleagues explain the four reasons they believe their refractive surgery numbers are back up. 
1. Safety Protocols/Patient Comfort 
            “Our patient flow has improved dramatically because we’ve emptied out our waiting room, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Maloney relays. 
            He explains that a happy side effect of this is that the practice is seeing the same number of patients now as before COVID-19, but patients aren’t waiting.
            Daniel Terveen, MD, of Vance Thompson Vision, in Sioux Falls, SD, adds that Vance Thompson Vision has made an effort to make patients feel comfortable, for example, by explaining the steps being taken to keep them safe and asking whether there’s specific music they’d like to listen to while they wait.
2. Disposable Income
            “We’re probably where we would normally be for a growth pattern for this year, except for refractive surgery, which is up,” explains David R. Hardten, MD, of Minnesota Eye Consultants, in Minneapolis. “I think this is partly because patients may not have spent money on outside dining or vacations, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they feel empowered to spend this savings on self-improvement.” 
3. Mask-Induced Dry Eye
            “If you’re a healthcare provider, you’re wearing that mask all the time, and you can’t do your job if your glasses are fogging up,” Dr. Terveen explains. “So, we’ve seen a lot of physicians that have had LASIK done as a result.”
             Dr. Maloney adds that many patients are interested in refractive surgery because of the inconvenience of wearing glasses with masks.  
4. A Change in Perspective
Dr. Terveen says there’s a feeling of ‘we’ve lost almost a year of our lives now, where we put everything on hold, and life is too short to not indulge, so if you always wanted to be out of glasses, and you keep thinking why wait, then now is the time.’ CP
1. Fliotsos MJ, Best MJ, Field MJ, et al. Impact of Reduced Elective Ophthalmic Surgical Volume on U.S. Hospitals During the Early COVID-19 Pandemic. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2020 Sep 7;10.1097/j.jcrs.0000000000000410.