Do you want your eye care practice to stand out from the competition? Attract and keep new patients? Expand your referral base? Perform rewarding work that other practices won’t or can’t do? If the answer is ‘yes,’ low vision rehabilitation may be for you, Joe Buttazzoni, ABOC told his audience at a previous Vision Expo West. You can grow your practice by adding low vision. How? It often includes:
- multiple eyeglass prescriptions
- device sales
- relationships with referral sources such as occupational therapists and other specialists.
More than 4% of the U.S. population reports a visual disability, according to a 2014 study from the National Federation of the Blind. The number of Americans with major eye diseases like AMD and diabetic retinopathy is increasing, especially as the Baby Boomers age. There are not enough low vision doctors to provide care to all of those who need it, and many geographical areas are underserved. The business case for practicing low vision is definitely there—so why don’t more ECPs see it?
Low Vision: Myth vs. Fact
Physician misconceptions about providing low vision services run rampant, according to Buttazzoni. During his presentation at Vision Expo West, he debunked some of the most common assumptions:
Myth #1: Low Vision Doesn’t Pay
There’s a saying that “low vision is slow vision” and it won’t earn you enough money to make it worthwhile, Buttazzoni lamented. Shrinking reimbursements, the fact that Medicare doesn’t cover low vision categories, and the prospect of using too much precious chair time leads many optometrists and ophthalmologists to believe that they won’t make much money when billing low vision categories.
Fact: Low vision is feeling the squeeze of reimbursement cuts, but if billed correctly, it remains profitable. Why? First of all, low vision exams traditionally take more time than a comprehensive eye exam, but you can usually bill low vision categories at higher levels than typical medical eye exams. Low vision patients often present with complicated histories and diseases. Due to that, physicians often must coordinate referrals to other health care providers, and they’ll almost always spend more face-to-face time counseling the patient. The higher-level codes—when documented correctly—can result in higher compensation.
Myth #2: You Must Be a Specialist
All optometrists and ophthalmologists have received at least some low vision education. However, only a small percentage actually integrate those skills into their practice. That’s because many physicians don’t feel they are up to date on relevant skill sets or technologies.
Fact: You don’t need to be a specialist to treat low vision. However, you do need to have a plan, along with a few basic devices and techniques. The components of a low vision exam are similar to those of a standard ocular health evaluation. “In the simplest sense, I am almost always ‘manipulating’ just three variables,” says Thomas Porter, OD, FAAO, assistant professor and director of low vision services at Saint Louis University Department of Ophthalmology. “Contrast enhancement and glare control, make [images] large enough to interpret, and help the patient learn to use their remaining vision more productively.”
Myth #3: You Must Buy a Lot of New Equipment
There’s an astounding number of low vision aids available to patients today. That’s why many physicians assume that you need a closet full of equipment. If you don’t have clientele at the ready, the variety of choices and the perceived financial outlay can be intimidating.
Fact: You’ll need some essentials to get started. But there’s a difference between the ideal setup and what a private practitioner requires. Therefore, “you don’t need one of everything, but you should be able to address the basics: enhancing distance, intermediate goals, near tasks, and glare,” advises Buttazzoni.
As for that closet? Get rid of it. To sell low vision aids, make your patients aware that you offer low vision services in the first place. Display devices prominently.