NEW YORK—Even as the number of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. decline and the number of Americans who have completed the vaccination regimen rises, the eyecare segment continues to see challenges along the pathway toward a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, according to the findings of Wave 22 of the Coronavirus ECP Survey conducted April 26-30, 2021, by Jobson Research. Notably, 75 percent of the respondents to Wave 22 said they believe their practice currently has capacity to see more patients, with the average respondent indicating the practice could see 26 percent more patients.

In addition, key metrics—such as profitability per patient, patients per day and optical sales —for many practices show that business and patient activity is running slightly behind April 2019 levels, but have rebounded significantly from the lows experienced in April 2020. Profitability per patient was down 2 percent in April 2021 when compared to April 2019, and the number of patients per day was down 6 percent in April compared with April 2019, according to survey respondents.

On a positive note, respondents reported that “capture rate” in April 2021 was the same as the level reported in April 2019.

Among the 25 percent of respondents who said their practice does not have capacity to serve more patients at this time, almost half of the respondents (45 percent) indicated that “a lack of staff” was a primary reason for not being able to see more patients. Only 10 percent of respondents said it was “a lack of patient traffic” that was contributing to the practice seeing a below-capacity level of patients.

However, another positive trend indicated in the responses is the number of practices that are now seeing walk-in patients for both eye exams and dispensing or eyewear purchases. Almost one-third (32 percent) of respondents said their practice was accepting walk-in patients for eye exams, a slight uptick from the 30 percent taking walk-in patients in the March 2021 survey (and only 26 percent in the February 2021 survey).

For walk-in patients in the dispensary, 63 percent of respondents said they accepted walk-in patients for eyewear dispensing or purchasing, which is up from the 58 percent of respondents in both the March and April surveys.

Respondents to the survey also noted a declining inclination to implement telehealth into the practice, with the number of respondents in favor of this option dropping to 29 percent from March 2021’s 33 percent. Only 13 percent of respondents indicated that they had billed for telehealth services in the past two weeks.

One significant, and possibly worrisome, trend is the number of respondents who indicated that they have noticed ocular changes in patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. In the April survey, 18 percent of respondents answered “yes” to the question about ocular changes, which marked a high point in this number since the question was first asked in the November 2020 survey (only 7 percent had noticed ocular changes in COVID-19 patients at that time).

Jobson Research has been regularly surveying ECPs and optical retailers since the COVID-19 crisis and shutdowns began in mid-March 2020. The respondents to the April survey (515 overall) identified primarily as optometrists (54 percent) or optician/ dispenser (37 percent), and were 60 percent female.

Among the respondents, 63 percent said they are affiliated with an independent or single-location practice.

Go to VM's Coronavirus Briefing section where you can catch up on all of the 2020 and 2021 Jobson surveys.

Click to view a PDF of the full Wave 22 survey results.