Seeing 20/20 : Ocular Telehealth and its Prospective Impacts on Eye Care

Ocular telehealth, or virtual services for eye and vision care, has slowly been coming into the radar amongst other rising telehealth services. Is this service here to stay?

With the necessary shift to telehealth due to the global pandemic, many different health services are slowly being included in insurance and benefits plans. Ocular telehealth — services for eye care and vision health — has entered the picture, with many health plan experts saying that patients’ abilities to virtually connect with eye care professionals has the “highest impact on their receptivity to purchasing vision insurance.” (Source: Versant Health)

The article linked above also raises this interesting point: about 1/3 of Americans deem cost as the reason for pushing off appointments with eye doctors. This is a big deal — this basically means that people are willing to risk their vision health because the cons of paying for these appointments outweigh the pros. Since early detection of vision problems is often linked to overall health in the future, eye check-ups are even more critical. However, ocular telehealth could change this. If telehealth vision benefits are covered under insurance plans in the future, many people are more likely to schedule regular eye check-ups, especially in the comfort of their own homes.

So what will ocular telehealth services look like exactly? Here’s a quick rundown of how health experts plan to implement ocular telehealth.

We usually think of telehealth visits happening in real time, conversing with health professionals through live video chats — these are known as synchronous telehealth visits. But with asynchronous visits, patients can monitor themselves at home, then virtually send results to their clinicians for later assessment.

Asynchronous ocular telemedicine is the key to making these services as effective as possible. Theoretically, patients will be able to screen themselves at home via mobile device, regularly monitoring their status and providing their eye care professionals with updates. Early detection of vision problems is more likely with these check-ups, possibly having a critical impact on patients’ overall health.

It’s important to point out that there still has to be some form of in-person visits with eye doctors, since they know how to handle the required corrective technology. Ocular telehealth has an integral role in being the first point of contact between patients and eye care professionals, as well as for maintaining regular trust and reassurance for routine check-ups.

I think integrating both in-person and virtual visits for eye care is the key to maximizing efficiency of patient care. With telehealth in general, it’s difficult to completely transition to virtual care because it brings up a lot of questions: How will patients access necessary medical equipment? What if a patient’s condition is more serious? How will healthcare professionals ensure the same quality of care through a digital screen?

Telehealth is perfect for filling in those spots where in-person care may be more cumbersome, time-consuming, and inefficient. In my opinion, emphasizing the balance between traditional and virtual resources is the key to securing a position for telehealth in the years to come.

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