• Vol. 50 No. 1, 61–76
  • 01 January 2021

Teleophthalmology and its evolving role in a COVID-19 pandemic: A scoping review

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ABSTRACT

Introduction: Teleophthalmology may assist the healthcare sector in adapting to limitations imposed on clinical practice by a viral pandemic. A scoping review is performed in this study to assess the current applications of teleophthalmology for its suitability to diagnose, monitor or manage ophthalmological conditions with accuracy. Methods: A search of PubMed was conducted for teleophthalmology-related articles published from 1 January 2018 to 4 May 2020. Only articles that focused on the use of teleophthalmology in terms of diagnosis and management, as well as its benefits and detriments, were included. The Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool (MMAT) was used to assess the quality of the included articles. Results: A total of 38 articles were assessed at the full-text level. There were 2 qualitative studies and 1 quantitative randomised controlled trial, while the majority were either quantitative descriptive studies (19, 50.0%) or quantitative non-randomised studies (16, 42.1%). Overall, 8 studies described reducing manpower requirements, 4 described reducing direct patient–doctor contact, 17 described storage of medical imaging and clinical data, and 9 described real-time teleconferencing. The MMAT analysis revealed limitations in appropriate sampling strategy in both quantitative non-randomised studies (9 of 16, 56.3%) and quantitative descriptive studies (9 of 19, 47.4%). Cost-effectiveness of teleophthalmology was not performed in any included study. Conclusion: This current review of the various aspects of teleophthalmology describes how it may potentially assist the healthcare sector to cope with the limitations imposed by a viral pandemic through technology. Further research is required to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the various strategies.


The World Health Organization declared coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. To control the outbreak, many countries have implemented nationwide lockdowns and social distancing measures, which have brought challenges to accessibility of healthcare services and continuation of long-term medical care, necessitating consideration of alternatives such as remote teleconsultations. As more healthcare workers are shunted to the frontlines to deal with increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, reduced manpower in other specialties such as ophthalmology may cause limitations to working capacity. Telemedicine may provide solutions mitigating the disruptive effect COVID-19 has on the current model of patient care. Ophthalmology may be a specialty particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. It has been suggested that ocular signs and symptoms may precede the appearance of respiratory symptoms.

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