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Exclusive cataract surgical focus among ophthalmologists: a population-based analysis

Campbell RJ, ten Hove MW, Bell CM, Gill SS, Hooper PL, Whitehead M, Campbell E de LP, El-Defrawy SR. Can J Ophthalmol. 2020; 55(5):359-65. Epub 2020 Jun 24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcjo.2020.05.003


Objective — An important potential unintended consequence of the growth of surgical subspecialization is the narrowing of surgical practice among comprehensive ophthalmologists. We investigated trends in the narrowing of surgical practice and the exclusive provision of cataract surgery.

Design — Population-based, retrospective study.

Participants  — All ophthalmologists and all ophthalmologic surgical patients in Ontario from 1994 to 2016.

Methods — We linked several health care databases to evaluate the proportion of ophthalmologists who exclusively provided cataract surgery (and no other ophthalmologic surgery) and the proportion who provided other types of ophthalmologic surgical care. To further investigate surgical focus, we evaluated the proportion of surgical cases within each surgical area for each ophthalmologist.

Results — Between 1994 and 2016, the proportion of ophthalmologists who exclusively provided cataract surgery rose from 10.0% to 34.9% (p < 0.0001). In contrast, the proportions of ophthalmologists providing other types of subspecialized surgical care were stable over the study period. Cataract surgeons showed high degrees of focus with a median percentage of surgical cases approaching 100% in all years. Among exclusive cataract surgeons, the median annual cataract case volume increased from 138 (interquartile range: 87–214) to 529 (interquartile range: 346–643) between 1994 and 2009 (p < 0.0001) and then plateaued.

Conclusions — Between 1994 and 2016, exclusive cataract surgical focus among ophthalmologists in Ontario rose dramatically from 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 surgeons. This evolution was similar among recent graduates and established ophthalmologists. Our data may have important implications for policies regarding surgeon human resources as well as residency and fellowship training programs.

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