Over the past several weeks, the world has experienced what journalists and politicians (and even our friends) call the “new normal.” Homes have transformed into offices and classrooms, in-person conferences have shifted to digital platforms, and our routine way of living has been challenged in ways we never anticipated. Due to this active pandemic, our conversations circulate around how life used to be and what it will be like when we can get back to “normal.” We audibly wonder with those around us what the world will look like tomorrow.
In a recent Devex article, Jayanth Bhuvaraghan, Chief Mission Officer, Essilor International, was quoted as saying, “When we come out of this crisis, the important thing is to actually make sure that we reinvent the ways we’ve been delivering services. We should look for learnings, bring innovation around efficiency, and embrace technology.”
There is much to learn from COVID-19 that can inform the future of vision. Frankly, this situation causes us to look even deeper at the issues that were already impacting vision care and to move more quickly toward long-lasting solutions.
Throughout this pandemic, global news reports consistently raise the topic of “access” to credible facts, access to care and equipment, and/or lack of access to services due to racial or economic inequities. As it relates to vision care and equipping those who need correction, the topic of access is not a new one. In fact, access is one of the top three barriers to good vision, alongside awareness and affordability.
In order to overcome these barriers, we must revisit the topic of access and broaden our perspective:
Access to information: Education is key to action. In many cases, a one-size-fits-all approach to sharing information does not work. During this pandemic, concepts like social distancing have been difficult to translate in many cultures. The same can be said for creating awareness for good vision – localized information is critical to meeting the needs of communities in a way that their citizens will understand and be empowered to take action.
Access to care: Technology in our current global situation has transformed the way we approach school, work, and medicine. Telehealth options have quickly taken center stage as the world shifted into a stay-at-home culture. In vision care, we have dabbled in tele-optometry, but we must be prepared to embrace viable innovation in order to meet the world’s needs.
Access to caregivers: Through the pandemic, community health workers have become invaluable in the fight against COVID-19 in many countries. In eye care, we must continue to adopt a multi-level hierarchy of care – from community health workers to ophthalmologists. Sometimes, the most available caregiver is a trained, local professional who can triage and treat minor vision correction needs and refer patients to optometrists or eye hospitals when needs are greater. Local solutions best improve a patient’s access to care when formally recognized through the existing continuum of care.
While we continue to define the “new normal” from a good vision standpoint, we cannot simply return to our previous ways of thinking about access to care and delivery. Even in the face of the current global health challenges, more than 2.5 billion people in the world need vision correction, and the world will still see a drastic rise in the numbers of people with myopia and high myopia in the next few decades. If we are not prepared to address the access connection soon, we will fail to meet one of the most basic needs of our global population.
Envisioning a changed future for vision care does not mean we look away from the immediacy of the moment. But, as we continue to navigate the days ahead, we also cannot ignore the new protocols and policies that will be needed moving forward. We must look at the future of vision care with a fresh perspective that takes us beyond any normal.