ST. LOUIS—The American Optometric Association (AOA) said in an announcement Wednesday that it is encouraging patients with urgent or emergency eyecare needs to contact their local doctor of optometry before seeking treatment in emergency rooms. These actions will help reduce burdens on emergency departments as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly evolve and places unprecedented strain on the U.S. health care system, as well as combatting 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," AOA president Barbara L. Horn, OD, said in the announcement.

"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, the AOA announcement noted.

While many 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 (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), doctors of optometry are able to 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, AOA noted.

"Research shows treating eye emergencies at eye doctors' offices can potentially divert 1.4 million patients away from ERs each year," Dr. Horn said. "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 AOA doctor of optometry at