NEW YORK —ECPs utilizing teleoptometry to perform comprehensive eye exams remotely, with the direct involvement of an optometrist, predicted a bright future for the process as its use across practice settings continues to grow and gain favor with patients. The comments came during a first-of-its-kind panel discussion on the telehealth topic that was part of the June 23 VirtualEYZE! Session, the first event of this year's VM Leadership Summit. The VirtualEYZE session was set up to examine the opportunities for telehealth to expand eyecare's boundaries and it featured the perspective of several experts in ocular telehealth and the related issues.

The telehealth panel session of this portion of the VM Summit was moderated by Mike Rothschild, OD, an optometric practice consultant and authority on the delivery of eyecare through all forms of telemedicine.

Joining him were four ODs who are performing remote, comprehensive eye exams: Jacqueline Evans, OD, an independent practitioner based in Denver; Deanna Ippolito, OD, an independent practitioner based in New Jersey; Harvey Moscot, OD, CEO of Moscot, a 106-year-old eyewear company based in New York City, and Sukumar Pandit, OD, a private practitioner and business owner. Rounding out the panel was Kirk Lauterback, chief operating office of Shopko Optical.

Rothschild noted that he sees unlimited opportunity ahead for telehealth / teleoptometry and that it also presents something akin to a “hybrid” model in the way it offers pathways to ODs to participate and to combine it with other areas of emphasis in their profession.
Evans, who moved away from corporate optometry about two years ago to look for other types of practice modalities, found a teleoptometry position with DigitalOptometrics, which she says has been “a really positive experience.” She added, “And for me, it began as a ‘want’ to address a need in underserved areas. … We take for granted that we often have such easy access to eyecare.” Teleoptometry is an opportunity to solve some of the issues related to providing care to patients in what are underserved communities, she said.
“We probably will be seeing more platforms introduced in the near future, thus adding to the variety and options out there for businesses as well as different practitioners,” Evans said. “It’s something that is so beneficial on so many levels that it just can’t be ignored.”
Lauterback, who oversees Shopko Optical’s retail optical centers and merchandising, said that the retailer has had “very good success from a teleoptometry standpoint.” The company first started looking into the teleoptometry process about four or five years ago as the technology began to improve. “We wanted to find a way to serve our patients when our in-person doctors were not available,” he said.
After a vetting process, Shopko Optical began working with DigitalOptometrics in 2019 and the program has now expanded to over 25 locations “and has done very well for us in that timeframe,” Lauterback said.
Ippolito, an independent practitioner in New Jersey, sold the private practice that she and her husband co-owned in 2019. Looking for ideas to “reinvent her career,” Ippolito subsequently ended up with DigitalOptometrics and Howard Fried, OD, a former optometry school colleague who is now president of the telehealth company. “It’s very different from being in private practice for me,” she said. “It was a new challenge … and I enjoy seeing patients from all over.”
She added, “Definitely, I think this is the wave of the future. I can see it growing and growing, and I am happy to be part of it. …. I can’t believe how this has grown over the past two years. It has [become] a tremendous platform for practicing optometry. And it’s definitely here to stay.”
Moscot, who said he values the opportunity to be in front of the patient, but noted too that he believes teleoptometry can be something of an adjunct to in-person eyecare. “I view teleoptometry as an addition to the services that we offer. It’s difficult to staff shops seven days a week over the hours that we are open. … We have a global customer base, and what’s interesting is that many patients from Europe, for example, don’t expect the type of eye exams that optometrists provide here.”
He added, “As someone who really believes in comprehensive care and the practice of medical optometry, we cannot replace the doctors, but we can supplement the doctors with this service that does work in many situations prior to the purchase of a pair of eyeglasses.”
Pandit, who works with 20/20 Now, said he has worked in many different modalities of optometry, and has been practicing using a teleoptometry platform for almost five years. “The initial spark was certainly curiosity, but also to solve a problem,” he said, noting that he believes teleoptometry is one solution for addressing OD shortages that exist in some areas.
“This is a very real issue,” said Pandit, whose initial exposure to teleoptometry was to help cover a satellite office of his practices in the Philadelphia area while he was seeing live patients in a different office. Even with the complex logistics and staggered scheduling, the process worked, he noted. Some of the questions he was asking himself at that time – Can I really do this? and Can I cover an office when I am not physically there? – were answered as he got more exposure and became more comfortable with teleoptometry. “It was initially a side gig back then, whereas today it is now my main gig. I think that shows that I enjoy it very much and I really see the potential in it,” he said.

All registered attendees can rewatch all or parts of the VirtualEYEZ! 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, August 11, from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. ET. Registration includes on-demand access to the June 23 VirtualEYES! 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.