Telehealth is booming for obvious reasons. Vision Monday has devoted nearly their entire June issue to the implications of telehealth for eye care. From March to April, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reported that telehealth encounters increased by a factor of 35.
In eye care, the increase has not been quite as dramatic, but it is substantial. According to a coronavirus-related ECP survey conducted by Jobson Medical Information, 5% of offices were offering telehealth services as of March 17. By June 9, the number had jumped to 38%.
While the scope of issues that can be addressed by eye doctors via telehealth is limited with current technology, doctors are finding areas where it is useful. These primarily relate to conditions that are easy to see, like chalazion, blepharitis, conjunctivitis and subconjunctival hemorrhages. This can be done by video chat or patient-submitted photos. Some also use telehealth tools for contact lens renewals.
At the most basic level, practitioners can use video chat tools like Zoom and FaceTime for telehealth engagements. However, other tools exist that are tailored specifically to medical professionals generally and eye care professionals specifically.
A number of doctors interviewed for the Vision Monday article use Doxy.me. This system goes beyond simple video chat with additional capabilities, and the basic version is free. It is HIPPA-compliant and secure, and allows patients to make web-based appointments. The office staff can send a link that places the patient in a virtual waiting room. One click and you’re talking to them face-to-face. The pro version allows you to send and receive photos and videos, and process payments.
EyecareLive, as the title implies, is designed specifically for eye care professionals. It goes beyond the capabilities of doxy.me by offering such eye care-specific tools as visual acuity screening and Amsler grid testing.
Another telehealth application, real-time remote refraction, has long been seen as a threat to independent optometry. But under current circumstances, it is being pitched as a way to see patients more safely by limiting close contact. Using a system like Digital Optometrics or 20/20 Now, a doctor could conduct a refraction from across the room, from a different room, or from home. The system could have other beneficial applications, too, like making it easy to get a backup doctor when the doctor is away – the backup wouldn’t even have to come to the office.
When considering telemedicine as an option, it’s also a good idea to look beyond the immediate considerations. Like working from home and ordering groceries over the internet, telehealth is likely to remain popular even after covid-19 is under control, simply because it’s convenient for both the patient and the practice. It’s worth considering as a short-term way to stay engaged with your patients, but it could also be beneficial long-term for your practice as well.