NEW YORK—With interest and utilization of telehealth services rising across eyecare, as well as other health care settings, a presentation by Christopher Brady, MD, of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) provided a thought-provoking view of where telehealth may be headed as many industry executives Wednesday joined virtually the first session of this year's VM Leadership Summit. The session, titled VirtualEYZE!, examined the opportunities for telehealth to expand eyecare's boundaries and featured the perspective of Brady, an ocular telehealth expert and past chair of the ATA’s Ocular Telemedicine Special Interest Group.

Brady, the Summit’s leadoff speaker and scene-setter, noted that telemedicine has provided new ways for doctors to connect with their patients, particularly as it related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he believes ATA has grown in influence during the pandemic “as a voice advocating for increased coverage of telehealth,” as well as a relaxation of some of the other guidelines and rules around telemedicine. (ATA is a hybrid trade and academic association, Brady noted.)
“There was a time when [telehealth] was a bad word, and if I were giving a presentation it would start out with me getting dirty looks,” he said. 
In some ways, however, ATA was ahead of the curve in anticipating the rise of telemedicine in the U.S. The association published the third edition of its guidelines for ocular telehealth, a document that specifically spoke to diabetic retinopathy screening, about 16 months ago, or right as the pandemic was hitting. The group was trying to branch out into new domains, including artificial intelligence and new disease states, including macular degeneration and glaucoma, Brady said.
One of the key benefits of telemedicine, he noted, is that it helps address what in public health is called the “inverse care law.” This is a situation in which the resources needed to treat a disease are exactly not where that disease is most prevalent.
He also noted that, for a time, there was “a fear that telemedicine was taking people out of exam chairs, and that is not at all what we are trying to do. People are not having access to the care that they need, and what we are really trying to do is bring that examination room to the patient. … If that’s what we’re trying to do, how can you argue with that?”   
Brady added, “I cannot examine the retina over the phone—yet. But there are a number of exciting developments right around the corner. …  [And for someone with flashes or floaters], I need them to come into the office to be certain.”
He said, though, that during the pandemic he learned, and what he tried to share with colleagues who may have resisted telehealth, is that he could add to his patients’ care and also develop a better understanding of the value of vision. “I can see how patients are meeting their visual challenges. And I can certainly confirm medication regimens, which is so valuable. I also form deeper connections,” he noted.
He added, “It’s really for all these reasons that I believe these are new opportunities, these are complimentary virtual care [visits] that are not a one-to-one substitute, but it wasn’t a 100 percent inferior substitute either. These are things that added to my patients’ care.”
Brady emphasized that the eyecare sector does need to advocate to keep the progress made in telehealth over the past year, and that the ATA and other professional associations are working on that. “Hopefully, we can preserve this as a tool in our toolbox,” he said.
All registered attendees can rewatch all or or parts of the VirtualEYZE! session on demand until Dec. 31, 2021.
The second VM Summit virtual session, “ALL-CONSUMING: A Deep Dive into the New Consumer Mindset,” is set for Wednesday, Aug. 11, from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. (ET).
Registration is still open to the Aug. 11 program, which includes on-demand access to the June 23 VirtualEYZE! event as well. Registration includes both virtual broadcasts, full access to the VM Summit virtual platform, networking, on-demand viewing, door prizes, and exclusive access to attendees-only content after the event. Optometrists, opticians, ophthalmologists and students can register for no charge. All other industry registration is $99. Details and registration information is posted here.
The multi-part Summit program, "CREATIVE DISRUPTION, THE NEW NOW: How to Survive It. Why You Need It." culminates in an in-person live + virtual event on Wednesday, Sept 22 in Las Vegas, called "Retail & Healthcare: UPENDED! Ripping Up The Rulebook." Registration and info about that event will be posted soon.
The Platinum Sponsors of the 2021 VM Leadership Summit are EssilorLuxottica and  VSP Global Premier Program. The Gold Sponsor is The Vision Council's Vision Health Alliance and the Silver Sponsors are Alcon and Ocuco.