Eye care reforms in France reduce waiting times to see specialists

Reforms to the organization of eye care in France have cut waiting times for ophthalmologist (ophthalmologist) appointments by 16 days over the past two years, the National Syndicate of Ophthalmologists of France has found ( SNOF).

In 2019, patients would have to wait an average of 42 days to see an eye doctor. This has now been reduced to an average of 26 days.

This improvement is due to better coordination and collaboration between ophthalmologists, orthoptists (experts in the diagnosis and treatment of eye movement abnormalities) and opticians. Orthoptists and opticians are now allowed to renew their prescriptions, for example, reducing clutter in ophthalmology practices.

In addition, the social security financing bill for 2022 allows orthoptists to prescribe glasses or contact lenses without going through an ophthalmologist, which the SNOF opposes.

Regional differences

The average waiting time differs according to the regions in France.

Brittany has seen the biggest reduction in waiting times to see eye doctors, dropping from an average of 126 days in 2019 to just 29 days in 2021.

Normandy also experienced a drastic drop, going from 135 days to 65 days over the same period.

In Centre-Val de Loire, the waiting time fell from 83 days to 41 days.

Ile-de-France residents, meanwhile, can expect to wait an average of 16 days to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist.

The average wait in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is now 27 days.

However, the waiting time has increased by two weeks in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté to 44 days on average, and by 20 days in Corsica to 59 days on average.

The type of consultation also plays a role, with generally shorter waiting times everywhere in France for an urgent consultation with an ophthalmologist. The longest waiting time for emergency appointments is in Normandy, with patients having to wait around 25 days, two days less than in 2019.

Online consultation trial

A one-year experiment is underway in the Aisne department (Hauts-de-France) offering patients online consultations with an ophthalmologist.

Point Vision, a national network of ophthalmology centers, opened a specialized center last June in a hospital in Saint-Quentin where ophthalmologists can carry out consultations online.

In Saint-Quentin, it takes an average of six months to get an appointment with a specialist, which is why the town was chosen as a test case by the National Health Insurance Fund (CNAM).

Online consultations reduced the waiting period to three weeks.

The local CPAM reimburses the consultations, which are only accessible to patients whose doctor is involved in the trial, at the center located at the Saint Claude-Elsan private hospital.

Francois Pelen, co-founder of Point Vision, said if further examination is required after the online consultation, patients can come to the center in person.

“Our intention is to open two or three advanced teleconsultation stations in each of our major centers,” Pelen said. Point Vision has 40 ophthalmology practices throughout France.

SNOF president Dr Thierry Bour remains skeptical of the trial.

“It should be seen as a complement [to regular check ups] and not as an end in itself,” he told franceinfo on September 20.

The number of eye care specialists in France has fallen by 5.4% since 2007, reports the French medical information site What’s Up Doc.

This is due to the fact that many ophthalmologists retire without being replaced.

“The goal of our project is to work in medical deserts where no young doctors can be found to replace those who are leaving,” Pelen said.

Related stories:

What are the French equivalents of some common UK drug brands?
French social security asks patients to help it fight a 3.6 million euro eye test scam

Breast cancer in France: New treatment authorized for use