Review article

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Care of ophthalmological patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: A rapid scoping review

Atención de pacientes oftalmológicos durante la pandemia COVID-19: revisión panorámica rápida


Introduction A new type of coronavirus (SARS‐CoV-2) causes a respiratory distress syndrome called COVID-19 that has generated an un-precedented pandemic. Serious complications include pneumonia, and mortality ranges from 2 to 5%. Up until 26 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 462 684 confirmed cases and 20 834 deaths worldwide. Dissemination occurs from aerosols or respiratory droplets. Different scientific societies have published clinical practice guidelines regarding ophthalmic care in the COVID-19 pandemic, but the information is presented inconsistently, which makes decision-making difficult.

Methods We conducted a sensitive bibliographic search in EMBASE and ophthalmic society webpages of the clinical practice guidelines of ophthalmic care in the COVID-19 pandemic. We extracted the recommendations, organizing them into three categories: "which patients to treat", "how should the clinic work", and "what interventions should be avoided". For each guideline, we assessed whether the search was systematic and whether the methodology Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) was followed.

Results Fourteen relevant articles were found. Fifty-one recommendations were extracted and are shown in a table summary. None are based on a systematic search for evidence, nor do any use GRADE to develop the recommendations.

Conclusions All the clinical practice guidelines that we reviewed recommend rescheduling all non-urgent consultations and surgeries, reinforcing contact precautions, using personal protection elements, and disinfecting surfaces and instruments. The guidelines should be improved by incorporating a systematic search for evidence, using GRADE for recommendations, and the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research & Evaluation (AGREE II) for reporting.

Main messages

  • SARS-CoV-2 has been isolated in conjunctiva, and the ophthalmological examination is at 30 centimeters, making it a risky treatment. 
  • Multiple clinical practice guidelines on eye care provide recommendations on the COVID-19 pandemic but lack a systematic search for evidence and reporting methodology, which reduces its quality and makes its applicability difficult.
  • The increasing quantity of new information being published (and the possible updates to clinical practice guidelines) is a limitation of this study, which means the study should be evaluated with a degree of caution.
  • Using Google Translate may provide inaccurate translations.


In late 2019 in Wuhan, China, several health centers reported cases of pneumonia[1]. The etiological agent was a new type of coronavirus (SARS‐CoV-2)[2],[3] and its disease (COVID-19)[4], has sparked a pandemic that until 26 March 2020 numbered 462 684 confirmed cases, and 20 834 deaths[5]. Respiratory symptoms are fever, cough, and dyspnea. Moreover, conjunctivitis was observed in 0.8 to 3% of cases[1],[6]. It is transmitted by aerosols or droplets[7]. The incubation period varies from 2 to 14 days[8],[9]. Due to the virus’ high transmission, it is necessary to use personal protection and keep a distance of at least 1 meter[10]. Since the virus has been isolated in conjunctival secretions and the ophthalmological examination is performed at 30 centimeters, it is a risky procedure[11]. Several medical societies have published clinical practice guidelines.


Design: we performed a quick scoping review[12]. 

Eligibility criteria: this year's clinical practice guidelines on ophthalmic care in the COVID-19 pandemic, prepared by medical societies or health institutions. Expert opinions were excluded. 

Data sources: EMBASE with strategy described in Annex 1, limited to the year 2020. We also search websites of medical associations. 

Selection: two authors screened the title and abstract. 

Extraction: by two authors. We translated into Spanish using Google Translate. The data was classified into: "which patients to treat", "how should the clinic work" and "what interventions should be avoided ". 

Analysis: For each clinical practice guideline the systematic search was investigated, as well as the use of GRADE methodology in the recommendations[13].


Eight results were found in EMBASE. Only one article represented a medical society or health institution[14], and therefore it was the only article included. In searching manually for medical societies, 13 articles from eight countries were found: Spain[15], United States[16],[17], Argentina[18],[19], France[20],[21],[22],[23], United Kingdom[24], Netherlands[25], Canada[26] and Mexico[27]. In the case of France, Argentina, and the United States, the main guide’s recommendations of the country's ophthalmological society were extracted, since the rest are complementary algorithms[19] or recommendations in specific groups of patients[17],[21],[22],[23]. In this way, 51 recommendations were extracted from nine clinical practice guidelines, which are summarized in Table 1. None of the clinical practice guidelines reviewed performs a systematic search for evidence or incorporates GRADE methodology for recommendations.

Table 1. Summary of recommendations.


The following general recommendations for managing the COVID-19 pandemic are repeated in all the reviewed clinical practice guidelines: strict cleaning of surfaces and equipment, rescheduling non-emergency eye care and elective surgery, and physical distancing between patients and health personnel. There are discrepancies regarding which clinical situations require the maximum personal protective equipment.

The Spanish guide suggests that personal protective equipment (N95 mask or similar, gloves, gown, lenses) should be used at all times, considering all potential patients with SARS-Cov-2, while the American and British guidelines consider clinical situations, where maximum personal protective equipment should be used only in cases of increased risk of contagion. This could be due to the fact that at the time of writing the guide, the virus circulation rate in those countries was still low. Considering the shortage of personal protective equipment reported by various services[28], local recommendations are likely to suggest the use of N95 masks or similar only in the riskiest cases. Evidence is lacking to consider all high-risk ophthalmic care, but the death of an ophthalmologist in China from COVID-19[29] and the physical proximity of the ophthalmic examination make it necessary to be vigilant of fatality reports of ophthalmic personnel. Furthermore, the shortage of even basic surgical masks must be considered, choosing which patients and personnel should use them and in what situations, depending on local availability.

As for tonometry, digital tonometry is not proposed as an alternative in any review as it is a low-cost alternative, which does not generate aerosols and allows working at a greater distance than Perkins tonometry—probably because it is a technique that in practice and in teaching has been stopped. Maastricht University Clinical Hospital’s guide draws our attention, because doctors in specialty training have a defined role in the clinical respiratory triage of patients, receiving highly suspected cases and confirmed cases, and coordinating with the prevention department of hospital infections. The recommendations will surely be adapted according to the pandemic’s course and the knowledge acquired from its advance, enhancing the rationalization of material and human resources.

None of the reviewed clinical practice guidelines follow the steps of the GRADE or AGREE II[30] groups for reporting the recommendations and the clinical practice guides respectively: probably due to the lack of evidence for various recommendations, the need to publish the guidelines quickly, and the lack of participation of methodologists in the elaboration of the clinical practice guidelines. Another element that complicates the applicability is that in some cases, such as Argentina and France, the same ophthalmic society has several documents of recommendations. It would be ideal if all of them were synthesized in just one consensus document. The large amount of new information that is being published and the consequent possible updates to the critical practice guidelines are the limitations of this study, which means that the information summarized here must be evaluated with caution. Another limitation is the use of Google Translate, which may contain inaccurate translations that could alter the authors’ intent for the critical practice guidelines.


The clinical practice guidelines are important in the systematization and improvement of healthcare quality. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, guidelines also ensure the rational use of resources, and above all they serve to educate health teams to respond in the best possible manner to scenarios never seen previously. The health emergency is a great challenge: changing our way of practicing medicine, making new priorities, leaving aside care and procedures, creating the ethical dilemmas involved in not treating our patients.

Thus, the guidelines must also be a consensus of medical societies, ensuring the best care for patients, considering the best available evidence, local reality, the opinion of our patients, and the safety of health teams. As the available evidence is not the best, as the pandemic is unprecedented, it is very important to contrast what is being done in other parts of the world so as to try to refine local protocols as much as possible. The revised clinical practice guidelines share the general principles of rescheduling all non-urgent consultations and surgeries, reinforcing contact precautions, the use of personal protection elements, and disinfection of surfaces and instruments. The critical practice guidelines should be improved by incorporating systematic searches for evidence and using GRADE methodology for recommendations and AGREE II for reporting.


Authorship contributions
MVP: conceptualization, methodology, data curation, writing (original draft preparation), writing (review and editing), visualization. PN: data curation, writing (original draft preparation), writing (review and editing), visualization. TD: data curation, writing (original draft preparation), Writing (review and editing), visualization. GI: data curation, writing (original draft preparation), writing (review and editing), Visualization. MH: conceptualization, data curation, writing (original draft preparation), writing (review and editing), visualization.

There was no external financing.

Competing interests
None of the authors declares conflicts of interest.

Ethics aspects
The study did not require a review by the Ethics Committee for using secondary data.

From the editors
The original version of this manuscript was submitted in Spanish and was the version that was peer reviewed. This English version was submitted by the authors and has been copyedited by the Journal.

Annex 1. Search strategy
1) covid .ti. 
2) covid19.ti 
3) covid-19 .ti. 
4) sars .ti. 
5) mers .ti. 
6) .ti coronavirus. 
7) 2019ncov .ti. 
8) exp sars virus / 
9) exp coronavirus infection / 
10) 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9 
11) exp eye / 
12) exp ophthalmology / 
13) ophthal * .ti. 
14) 11 or 12 or 13 
15) 10 and 14