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BACKGROUND: Healthcare restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in ophthalmology, led to a differential underutilization of care. An analytic approach is needed to characterize pandemic health services usage across many conditions. METHODS: A common analytical framework identified pandemic care utilization patterns across 261 ophthalmic diagnoses. Using a United States eye care registry, predictions of utilization expected without the pandemic were established for each diagnosis via models trained on pre-pandemic data. Pandemic effects on utilization were estimated by calculating deviations between observed and expected patient volumes from January 2020 to December 2021, with two sub-periods of focus: the hiatus (March-May 2020) and post-hiatus (June 2020-December 2021). Deviation patterns were analyzed using cluster analyses, data visualizations, and hypothesis testing. RESULTS: Records from 44.62 million patients and 2455 practices show lasting reductions in ophthalmic care utilization, including visits for leading causes of visual impairment (age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataract, glaucoma). Mean deviations among all diagnoses are 67% below expectation during the hiatus peak, and 13% post-hiatus. Less severe conditions experience greater utilization reductions, with heterogeneities across diagnosis categories and pandemic phases. Intense post-hiatus reductions occur among non-vision-threatening conditions or asymptomatic precursors of vision-threatening diseases. Many conditions with above-average post-hiatus utilization pose a risk for irreversible morbidity, such as emergent pediatric, retinal, or uveitic diseases. CONCLUSIONS: We derive high-resolution insights on pandemic care utilization in the US from high-dimensional data using an analytical framework that can be applied to study healthcare disruptions in other settings and inform efforts to pinpoint unmet clinical needs.

Original publication




Journal article


Commun Med (Lond)

Publication Date