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UPFRONT: A New World of Communication and Education in Retina

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My desk has undergone a phase change in this COVID-19 pandemic: Once a clean, organized, wooden support for my computer, it has become a disorganized mini video recording studio, with LED lights to overcome my office’s extreme backlighting, a USB microphone, and USB cables emanating from my computer like an octopus. Being late to the game, obtaining a better webcam than the one in my laptop was an effort in futility unless I wanted to pay the highway robbery prices on Amazon. I have a ways to go until I meet the level of sophistication of my good friend John Kitchens, MD, with his specialized Canon digital camera, but I am trying.

My research days are spent participating in back-to-back Zoom, Webex, Join.me , or some other web conferencing meeting to keep the team engaged or work on new projects while trying to decide if I want to put myself on a beach, in space, or on the set of The Office for the next call. I have learned to automatically mute myself and turn off my video when joining calls, and to laugh at the guy in the top corner who always seems to forget to turn off his microphone when talking to their kids or spouse. It seems like we have all become part of the Brady Bunch. It is a different world.

My clinic days are spent seeing more urgent patients, and then performing 20 to 30 virtual visits. I never thought these visits would work, but just the human interaction makes some of my patients’ day. I never thought a patient would actually sit by their phone waiting for a virtual appointment time, but many comment that, unlike my clinic, I was on time for my Facetime call! With the COVID-19 pandemic likely to continue for the next 12 to 18 months, I fear that this is the new normal. We certainly will be increasing our volumes, but I think virtual visits are going to become part of our days. In this issue, Riva Lee Asbell discusses the very important CMS changes surrounding virtual and telephone visits.

But it is not all bad either. I have participated in grand rounds, case conferences, and other educational events taking place around the globe. Last night, I was on a Zoom case conference with 100 fellows from around the world presenting surgical videos with incredibly interesting discussions and side chats. We would take turns sharing our screens to show slide presentations or our own videos to explain our points. This would never happen at an in-person meeting. Afterwards, I recorded my presentation for the virtual ARVO meeting coming up in a few weeks. In some ways, this crisis has brought us closer; in another time, I might never have crossed paths with the people with whom I interact on these mediums. The access to amazing online content and education has never been more needed. I can only imagine what would have happened if this pandemic had occurred when I was in training, when I accessed the internet via my dial-up modem. Education would have ceased. We would never have been able to continue our mission.

As I help plan meetings for 2021, it is difficult to predict what near-future meetings will look like. When we all are immune — via either vaccine or antibodies — meetings will return to normal. But next year, will we have in-person meetings? Will they all be virtual? Something in between? We will find out, but it is an interesting time. Stay safe! RP