Virtual Triaging Protocol May Alleviate Eye Care Burden

Telemedicine eye doctor observes eyelid cyst on computer
Telemedicine female ophthalmologist looks at epidermal cyst on right upper eyelid on monitor seriously. Virtual doctor observes mans cyst either by online video conference or snapshot. Horizontal mid-shot on blurry indoors background
Virtual assessments developed during the COVID-19 pandemic may reduce the need for some in-person visits, a report shows.

Virtual eye assessment technologies implemented during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic have the potential to reduce the need for some in-person visits, according to a study published in Clinical Ophthalmology. The study shows these virtual exams have a 63% satisfaction rating; however, researchers warn against implementing practices that could miss vision-threatening conditions.

In this retrospective cross-sectional study, researchers collected data from an ophthalmology center in Toronto that conducted virtual eye assessments during the pandemic. The study was conducted for 3 months beginning in March 2020. The virtual assessment required participants to submit a photograph of the eye and visual acuity to a website that evaluated the submissions and triaged patients to an email or phone consult based on severity. Participants were asked to fill out a quality assurance survey to assess patient satisfaction and any changes in treatment or in-person follow-up appointments were recorded. 

1535 virtual assessments were completed and the mean age of participants was 55 years. The study shows 235 participants (15%) received care from an email consult, and 1300 (85%) required a phone consult. Of those, 233 (15%) required an additional in-person assessment, 47 (3%) were referred outside of the facility, and 2 (0.1%) needed emergency care. Overall, 755 participants (49%) required no pharmacological treatment and 315 (21%) were prescribed new treatment. Of the 397 participants who responded to the quality assurance survey, 151 (38%) were very satisfied, 99 (25%) were satisfied, 58 (15%) were neither satisfied or unsatisfied, 32 (8%) were dissatisfied, and 45 (11%) were very dissatisfied.     

Researchers say virtual eye consultations could lower costs of doctor visits and increase the safety in the current and future pandemics, considering the average age of patients in this study.

Limitations include low survey response and the limited ability to assess the effectiveness and safety of the results based on the low survey responses, including reports of those who would have sought care elsewhere if available.   


Ma J, Issa M, Varma D & Ahmed I. Urgent virtual eye assessments during the covid-19 pandemicClin Ophthalmol. 2022;16:2069-2078. doi:10.2147/OPTH.S353660