Philippe Sourdille, MD, is a senior ophthalmologist who throughout his career has been involved in many pioneering project and milestones changes.  He is no longer practising but still engaged actively in clinical research.  He is medical advisor for the Elsan group, which owns 120 private hospitals in France.

COVID-19, a challenge to our creativity and humanity

By Philippe Sourdille, MD

The COVID-19 pandemic is not a war: we do not have to kill enemies but to protect our fellow citizens. It is not a war since we are not starving in bombed cities, where survivors wander the streets in search of somewhere to live. Pompous « call to arms » are therefore inappropriate.

A rapid adaptation of our consultation and treatment centres to the new safety regulations for both patients and doctors has developed throughout the world. Ophthalmologists have competed creatively to implement the best protective devices. For several weeks now, with great dedication, our community has been standing by. Some of our national societies have issued permanent information and recommendations.

In spite of this, we observe a low rate of use of our emergency services, and untreated chronic pathologies become emergencies in their own right. Choroidal new vessels, among other serious conditions, continue to grow and the consequences of interrupted therapies is a concern.

We need to communicate clearly and effectively to our frightened patients, to ensure that they understand and are fully aware of the additional precautions being taken to ensure their safety when they visit the clinic or hospital.  Social networks, quick responses to phone calls, updating our websites are all answers to be implemented. A daily monitoring of our websites with a personalized response to questions and to urgent cases remains the optimal way to recreate a comforting human bond. Confinement itself is a major source of anxiety. Illness adds to that: reassuring, explaining our safety measures are key to appropriate patient care and to avoid loss of opportunity.

Telemedicine has boomed, it allows quick scrutiny and visual contact with patients and we know that artificial intelligence processes information better and faster than an army of technicians. But we remain, particularly in ophthalmology, dependent on information gathering. The current shortage of medical resources will not miraculously disappear in a few weeks. We must consider the new possibilities of receiving medical information directly from our patients. In ophthalmology, the Spanish invention of an application on mobile phones allows auto-refractions and visual acuity measurements at a distance, without intermediaries. It could also be the best way to follow the evolution of another threatening epidemic: myopia. Technology is here, let us use it.

COVID-19 has also shown that the accumulation of regulatory constraints is more a source of slowness than of safety. Global medical creativity, once no longer constrained by inappropriate rules and administrative burdens, has been able to develop at a speed and with a success unimaginable only a few weeks ago. This opportunity offered by the health crisis should not stop with the treatment of the corona virus. We must put pressure, by all possible means, on the European Commission for Medical Devices to abandon the needless layers of bureaucracy that would only put European medical research at a permanent disadvantage compared to other continents. Without adding to patient safety.

We know we are engaged in a long uncertain time. It offers anguish and opportunities. Let us hope that our brains will adapt faster than the virus to the new times.