“Line Verde”, a toll-free eye health consultation service provided by IAPB Italy, is an example of telemedicine. After being active for several years, it proved its worth during the hardest months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In this interview, Sara D’Angelo and Martina Genzano, two ophthalmologists in charge of the service, describe their experience during the Covid-19 emergency period.
Covid-19 is dominating our attention, in the realm of our personal, public, and political lives. At this time, telemedicine is proving to be vital in providing access to healthcare without further burdening hospitals, which have been at breaking point in their response to the pandemic. While many telemedicine services have been set up expressly to deal with the crisis, the existing ones are responding to the new situation with tools that have been perfected over time. An example is the Linea Verde service run by IAPB Italy, which has always remained close to its patients: a service that was highly appreciated by its users even before the outbreak of the pandemic.
“During the lockdown months of spring 2020, patients experienced complete panic,” recollects Sara D’Angelo, ophthalmologist and manager of the Linea Verde service run by IAPB Italy. “They felt abandoned and deprived of the reference points they were used to. The lack of reliable information on the new virus led them to associate any symptom, even the least worrying, to Covid-19.”
Because of this situation, the intensity and nature of the phone calls changed significantly. “During that time, the number of calls increased. Many wanted to know how to reduce the risk of contagion through the eyes. They were interested in understanding if it was safe to attend an already scheduled eye exam or to what extent airborne contagion could occur through the eyes.”, commented Martina Genzano, ophthalmologist and operator of the toll-free service.
What is the aspect that most worries patients that use your service?
D’angelo: Now that more reliable information on the transmission of the virus and its related symptoms are available, the concern has shifted towards the possibility of being able to carry on treatments related to other diseases. For example, it is vital for patients with AMD to receive intravitreal injections in due time and any delay in appointments worries patients considerably. They call us to know the risks of delayed treatment. At the same time, people are very concerned about attending an appointment even when it’s been scheduled. Hospitals are no longer perceived as safe places and people don’t want to go there unless it is strictly necessary. During our phone conversations, we try to understand if the person on the other end of the line is experiencing serious symptoms or not.
What kind of service do you most need to provide to people that contact you?
Genzano: Our callers are often elderly people who have already experienced sight loss. In that case, taking risks is not an option and we try to convince them to book an appointment or to attend a scheduled one. In other cases, almost 50 percent of them, our task is to provide support to patients who have been confused by diverging opinions or simply need a more in-depth explanation about the problem they are experiencing. It is easier to find the time to fully explain to a patient all the details of their disease and their possible consequences by phone, compared to what can take place in a face-to-face examination.
How is your service perceived?
D’angelo: many people call us frequently. These are people who appreciate our work and trust our advice. Other people, after their first contact, call back to thank and inform us about the outcome of their examination. This proves that telemedicine works, despite its limitations. Through our portal and our email address, we receive copies of medical reports and photos. A call cannot replace a real examination with an ophthalmologist, but it helps patients avoid rushing to Accident and Emergency unnecessarily and symptoms can be properly assessed. This is crucial at this time, whether your instinct tells you to avoid hospitals or to go there no matter what.
The Linea Verde toll-free number for eye health consultation by IAPB 800-068506 is active every morning from Monday to Friday, from 10 am to 1 pm. An email address (email@example.com) and a portal (https://iapb.it/forum/#pagination_forum) are also available