North Carolina Optometric Society cautions against avoidable ER visits

Published 7:15 pm Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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From North Carolina Optometric Society


RALEIGH — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly evolve and place unprecedented strain on the U.S. healthcare system, the North Carolina Optometric Society, along with the American Optometric Association, encourages patients with urgent or emergency eye care needs to contact their local doctor of optometry before seeking treatment in emergency rooms. These actions will help reduce burdens on emergency departments and combat further community spread and a wider outbreak.

“Most eye-related conditions reported in local emergency departments may be treatable in an outpatient optometry office or clinic,” said NCOS President Scott Athans, O.D. “When it comes to eye-related emergencies, patients should first contact their local doctor of optometry for guidance and possible treatment before heading to an already-overwhelmed hospital emergency room.”

Urgent or emergent care needs may include those related to systemic and ocular disease or injury where there is significant risk of permanent vision loss because of any postponement of care. It also may include visits where patients are experiencing discomfort, blurry vision, changes in vision or other symptoms that significantly impact or interfere with day-to-day activities.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many emergency rooms throughout the U.S. are triaging only the most urgent, life-threatening cases. Unnecessary and non-emergency visits to the ER can not only put an individual at risk of transmission, but also take away supplies and resources from more critically ill patients who have no other treatment options.

While optometry offices have restricted their in-person visits and procedures to urgent and emergency patients only for the next several weeks, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, doctors of optometry will assess the level of care the patient needs — whether it’s telehealth or urgent care that requires a visit to the doctor’s office or ER — to ensure they get the appropriate treatment while allowing hospitals to make the best use of their available resources.

“Research shows treating eye emergencies at eye doctors’ offices can potentially divert 1.4 million patients away from ERs each year,” said AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D. “Easing the burden on local emergency departments and conserving much-needed resources is especially critical at this time, and as frontline providers, doctors of optometry are rising to the challenge by assuring continued access to essential health care nationwide.”

Patients can find a local NCOS doctor of optometry at For coronavirus-related updates, visit