Telehealth is transforming all fields of medicine, and eyecare is keeping pace. New ocular telehealth technology is coming at us quickly and in many forms, including smartphone eye exams, online eye tests, health kiosks and surgeons live-streaming from the operating room to colleagues or students in other locations. Each of these technologies is changing the way eyecare practitioners deliver care to their patients, sometimes in radical new ways.
Some ECPs are unsettled by these changes, while others see opportunities. However, consumers are increasingly embracing the convenience that telehealth offers, and health care organizations are attracted to potential cost savings, so it’s important for ECPs and optical retailers to understand how they can benefit, too.
Some ophthalmologists and optometrists are already using specially designed smartphone apps that let patients take their own ocular measurements and transmit them to their doctor. This frees both the patient and doctor, or their staff, from time-consuming office visits.
Another promising telehealth technology is the virtual doctor visit. This typically enables both the patient and doctor to remotely communicate in real time.
A virtual visit might be a good solution for a patient who lives far from the doctor’s office or prefers to remain at home. It can be used for a routine checkup before a procedure, or as a follow-up appointment after it is completed. As with an in-person visit, the doctor can provide a prescription if necessary.
Taking the virtual visit one step further, researchers at the University of Southern California’s Center for Body Computing have developed a way to project a holographic image of the doctor that the patient would see in real time. The virtual doctor would interact with the patient the same way he or she would in person.
Virtual eyecare is more complex than some other types of medical care, partly because of the need for specialized instruments to examine the eye. Performing a remote eye exam is more complex than measuring someone’s blood pressure or taking their temperature. But driven by rapid advances in medical technology and consumers’ preference for convenience, telehealth is poised to add a valuable new dimension to eyecare.
• Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology