Telehealth & Virtual Eye Exams. Should your practice offer them?
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on an already growing platform for health care. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare visits conducted through telehealth in 2020 increased 63-fold. And a report by McKinsey & Company found that telehealth visits surged by 78 percent from February to April 2020.
The pandemic and resulting quarantines didn’t birth telehealth services, but they did explode their popularity. And once people who hadn’t experienced telehealth used it for the first time, they were hooked. Over 80 percent of Americans used telehealth services for the first time during the pandemic and 40 percent said they would continue to use telehealth services after the pandemic is over.
Why patients like virtual eye exams
Telehealth is popular in most aspects of healthcare. But specialties that don’t require hands-on appointments, like psychiatry and primary care have seen the biggest bumps in its use. That’s one reason why optometry can benefit from virtual appointments. Eye exams don’t usually require direct touching of the patient by the doctor. If you can read an eye chart in a doctor’s office, you can read one over a computer screen from your own home.
Other benefits of virtual eye exams include:
Patients don’t have to drive to a doctor’s office or arrange for a relative to drop them off or pick them up, a common safety measure after their pupils have been dilated. Instead, they can get their eyes checked in the comfort of their own home.
One of the major hurdles to seeing the doctor for many is the wait time before an appointment. Some doctors are booked weeks or months in advance. And once the patient arrives at the office, they spend about an hour waiting for the appointment and filling out forms. The payoff? Twenty minutes at most spent with the doctor. On the other hand, telehealth appointments remove the huge chunk of time spent waiting in the office so the visit feels shorter, even if the same amount of time is spent with the doctor.
One of the major problems in optometry is getting patients through the door. In fact, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, just half of U.S. adults at risk for serious vision loss saw an eye doctor in the last year. Bringing eye exams directly to patients can help increase that number.
Younger patients are accustomed to doing most things online, from buying groceries to streaming their favorite television shows. In fact, in recent years online prescription glasses retailers have emerged as a major competitor for brick-and-mortar eyeglass retailers and ophthalmology practices. When patients become used to buying their glasses online, virtual eye exams are the next logical step.
Why doctors like virtual eye exams
Doctors have their own reasons for promoting telehealth optometry services. Here are a few.
Telehealth visits tend to be shorter than in-person visits. This lets practitioners see more patients in a day, resulting in more income. Patients also appreciate the reduced time spent on eye exams.
Patients expect flexibility when it comes to health care. The same McKinsey & Company survey showed that patients under 40 expect their providers to offer virtual services. Providers that don’t have the services patients demand will lose them to practices that do. But offering services that cater to the busy lifestyles of your patients can engender loyalty and secure your client base.
Downsides of Virtual Eye Exams
Despite their benefits, telehealth eye exams aren’t a magic bullet for patients or doctors. They don’t include some eye care standards, such as pupil dilation and eye pressure testing. So they can’t cover the entirety of a patient’s care plan. They’re better for things like follow-up visits after surgery or simple eye exams. In fact, the American Optometric Association’s Position Statement Regarding Telemedicine in Optometry makes it clear that telemedicine should complement, not replace, in-person visits and should always adhere to the same standard of care as in-person visits.
Another downside of virtual eye exams is the lack of connection between a doctor and patient. Most doctors get into the profession to interact with people. While a virtual connection still involves talking to and often seeing a patient, it can be perceived as much less personal than a traditional office visit.
Luckily, technology offers help here. Your optometry EHR software or optometry practice management software may have built-in functions that enable patient communication on their terms. Some come with built-in telehealth functions that let your patients start a visit right from the app, without having to use an outside system like Zoom.
Another downside is that virtual visits depend on the internet. That puts them at the mercy of internet and power outages. Plus, it leaves out the 23 percent of U.S. households that don’t have internet connectivity.
Of course, any technology a practice uses must be implemented with HIPAA compliance in mind. That’s why it’s important to use a reliable optometry practice management software supplier instead of attempting to rig up your own solution using an existing video conferencing platform. An experienced EHR provider will know which security functions need to be included to keep your telehealth services complaint.
Ready to discuss your EHR and practice management software needs? Contact us today.
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