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Evolution of Disparities in Outpatient Ophthalmic Care at a Tertiary Care Center in California at the Beginning of and One Year into the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.

Ophthalmic Epidemiology 2023 Februrary 21
PURPOSE: To compare disparities in outpatient ophthalmic care during early and later periods of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study compared non-peri-operative outpatient ophthalmology visits by unique patients at an adult ophthalmology practice affiliated with a tertiary-care academic medical center in the Western US during three time periods: pre-COVID (3/15/19-4/15/19), early-COVID (3/15/20-4/15/20), and late-COVID (3/15/21-4/15/21). Differences in participant demographics, barriers to care, visit modality (telehealth, in person), and subspeciality of care were studied using unadjusted and adjusted models.

RESULTS: There were 3095, 1172 and 3338 unique patient-visits during pre-COVID, early-COVID and late-COVID (overall age 59.5 ± 20.5 years, 57% female, 41.8% White, 25.9% Asian, 16.1% Hispanic). There were disparities in patient age (55.4 ± 21.8 vs. 60.2 ± 19.9 years), race (21.9% vs. 26.9% Asian), ethnicity (18.3% Hispanic vs. 15.2% Hispanic), and insurance (35.9% vs. 45.1% Medicare) as well as changes in modality (14.2% vs. 0% telehealth) and subspecialty (61.6% vs. 70.1% internal exam specialty) in early-COVID vs. pre-COVID (p < .05 for all). In late-COVID, only insurance (42.7% vs. 45.1% Medicare) and modality of care (1.8% vs. 0% telehealth) persisted as differences compared to pre-COVID.

CONCLUSIONS: There were disparities in patients receiving outpatient ophthalmology care during early-COVID that returned close to pre-COVID baseline one year later. These results suggest that there has not been a lasting positive or negative disruptive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on disparities in outpatient ophthalmic care.

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