The more I learn about ocular telehealth, the more I’m convinced that it is one of the most exciting developments in vision care today. I’ve watched as it has gained traction over the past few years, as more patients and practitioners have discovered the benefits ocular telehealth can offer, if done properly. Those last three words are important to consider when evaluating the various ocular telehealth services available today, and we’ll get back to them in a moment.
The rise in ocular telehealth reflects the growing consumer interest in all types of telehealth. According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 Americans conducted for the telemedicine company American Well, the majority of consumers are open to telehealth, and adoption of telehealth continues to grow. Two-thirds of the respondents said they are willing to use telehealth, and 8 percent have had a video visit with a doctor.
Amid rising consumer interest, at least three distinct approaches to ocular telehealth have emerged. Comprehensive care involves either a complete eye exam performed by a technician and followed by a live video consultation with an eye doctor or a connection between doctor and patient, usually through a HIPAA-compliant portal.
The second approach is do-it-yourself vision testing which involves an online test for refractive error, color blindness or contrast sensitivity or dry eye, or else a self-test using a viewing device connected to a smartphone.
Smartphone-based testing is performed by a technician either in a doctor’s office or in the field. Test results are then analyzed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
No matter which type of ocular telehealth a consumer chooses, telehealth companies and doctors need to clearly identify the service they’re offering and clearly explain what it can and can’t do. This is crucial since many consumers don’t understand the difference between say, an online vision test and an eye exam, a point underscored by a new survey from Transitions Optical and the American Optometric Association.
Ocular telehealth will continue to flourish, but only if vendors and eyecare professionals educate patients about its proper role within the health and wellness matrix.
• Andrew Karp
Group Editor, Lenses and Technology