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Ocular Telehealth:
A New Normal for Eyecare?

By Chuck Scott | July 15, 2019 | Trends & Perspective | 0 Comments

Telehealth, the use of telecommunications technologies to provide healthcare at a distance, is on a roll. According to a national study recently cited by the American Medical Association, telehealth is growing faster than other settings of care, up 53 percent in a single year (from 2016 to 2017), a phenomenon that the AMA considers to be “a striking indicator of telehealth’s building momentum.”

The AMA is doing its part to speed up adoption of digital technologies in the delivery of health care, in part by publishing a Digital Health Implementation Playbook. The WHO, too, has released guidelines for using digital health technology to improve healthcare across the globe.

With the increased access, greater convenience and flexibility, and potential cost savings it offers, telehealth is quickly gaining momentum and popularity with providers and patients, too.

I come from the world of radiology, the first branch of healthcare to embrace telehealth—and I’m gratified to see that more physicians are using telehealth every day. A recent survey published by American Well that looked at telehealth usage trends among physicians found a growing willingness to use telehealth to engage with patients.

According to that survey, 69 percent of respondents said they’re willing to use live video telehealth to meet with their patients—an increase from 57 percent in 2015. Not surprisingly, younger providers are even more willing, with 77 percent of physicians aged 35 to 44 years of age willing to use telehealth, compared with 60 percent of their counterparts aged 55 and up.

Patients are also warming up to the idea. A 2017 survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics, for example, showed that 70 percent of patients would prefer a telehealth visit over an in-person visit.

What About Eyecare?

As telehealth reshapes the way doctors and their patients interact, eyecare providers are realizing that telehealth can bring greater access, convenience and efficiencies to their practices, too. In recent years, we’ve seen the landscape changing rapidly as the eyecare industry has evolved slowly in the direction of telehealth. We’ve seen the emergence of many versions of ocular telehealth—from online and in-store refractions to comprehensive eye exams performed by remote, licensed doctors . That’s where 20/20NOW has been leading the charge.

When the company started out, 20/20NOW was a reseller of refraction software to optometrists and opticians. That software was integrated with digital equipment to provide optical retailers with the ability to refract patients and issue prescriptions.

In 2015, when I joined the company, we realized that we needed to transform our solution from an objective and subjective refraction solution to one that integrates ocular health testing to provide a similar standard of care to an in-person eye exam.

We did our due diligence. We sat down with our eyecare provider partners and looked at the standard of care as published by vision care plans, the AOA, AAO and other organizations and created a solution to meet or exceed their standards of care. We looked at how we could leverage technology to create a remote experience that mimics the experience of having a professional on site.

When all was said and done, we created a protocol that meets every guideline except dilation (because some states do not allow dilation to be performed by a nonprofessional) and patented our comprehensive eye exam solution. Now, with our proprietary Eyelogic® technology, we’re deploying artificial intelligence image recognition to detect conditions that an eyecare professional wouldn’t otherwise be able to detect.

How Our Model Works in the Real World

In practice, the 20/20NOW model actually re-creates the in-person exam. A skilled technician at a fully equipped eyecare practice or retail location can perform a comprehensive eye exam on a patient, then forward the results of that exam to a licensed doctor off site. After reviewing the patient’s history and objective and subjective refraction testing data, as well as eye health data and images, the doctor can write a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses and recommend any needed treatment.

By providing increased access to comprehensive exams, the 20/20NOW telehealth model will mean that more patients who wouldn’t otherwise have access to an eyecare provider’s office will now have access to much-needed screenings and examinations. And, because they can work at one location while reviewing data about patients at another location, more eyecare professionals will be able to provide more patients with a standard of care equivalent to in-person exams at a lower cost.

We believe our value proposition is one that is unique in the industry. While other solutions claim they do comprehensive exams, their exam protocols simply do not measure up to what ours is able to do. In short, the standard of care is significantly different.

Getting the Word Out About Ocular Telehealth

Ocular telehealth was a hot topic at this year’s Vision Expo East conference, where we demonstrated how our technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect critical eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy, by providing live demos of our ocular telehealth exam protocol.

At the Expo, The Vision Council announced its new report on consumer perceptions and usage of ocular telehealth. While the field is growing rapidly, consumer awareness remains low and many in our industry are unaware of the technology advancements that enable comprehensive exams to be conducted via telehealth.

Part of the problem, of course, is confusion about online eye exams and ocular telehealth. Many patients think that eye exams are just used to measure for eyeglass prescriptions, but that is only a small component of a comprehensive eye examination. That’s the message that 20/20NOW is sending, and we’ll be working to get the word out in the coming months.

Please watch this space for updates about the world of ocular telehealth and advances in technology and outcomes. You’ll be hearing much more from us, especially from Dr. Chad Overman, our new clinical advisor, about the many conditions that our exam can identify and the proprietary technology that makes it all possible.

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