The Time Is Right for Telehealth

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The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle. This is the genie known as telehealth, telemedicine or even tele-optometry. Whatever one calls it, there certainly has been a rush of activity in which individual doctors provide remote diagnosis and treatment services to an individual patient.

Across general health care, telemedicine seems quite practical for routine care, especially in behavioral health. But as we’ve seen during the recent coronavirus pandemic, many other areas of health care are quickly adopting and adapting telemedicine to their practices.

As noted in this month’s cover feature (see Page 14) major health systems across the nation reported unprecedented growth in telehealth encounters in the March-April-May period. While telehealth in optometry is not without its challenges—and there were many skeptics prior to COVID-19—the breadth of new technology and an emphasis on safety and “social distancing” is making remote delivery of care more common in eyecare.

“I think the challenge may be to make sure that we keep pace with what is clinically effective and what works best for the continuum of the provider, the patient and the managed vision plans,” said John Ryan, UnitedHealthcare Vision general manager.

Ryan noted that he would “like to see things move further and faster in the telehealth space around diabetic retina exams” where someone with a clinically effective camera records images of a patient’s eye and then these images are reviewed by an OD in another place. This would be a boon for delivery of care to under-served populations.

All of this technology exists, and managed vision care is beginning to partner and pilot into it, Ryan noted. “We need to be aligned with the industry, and especially the providers, in making sure there are protocols, and in making sure that we agree on what those protocols are. But this is also what patients are going to expect.”

And, if the time was ever right for all of these things to align, it is now.

mtosh@jobson.com