Telehealth provides the opportunity to expand access to eye care in communities where it is unlikely that the appropriate and necessary eye care provider(s) will be physically and adequately present to address the needs of individuals and a population. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has unquestionably become an invaluable way for patients to receive care in a safe and socially distant manner. The rapid expansion of telehealth (which has in many ways become a great American experiment in health care delivery) warrants new ways of thinking about how telehealth and telemedicine can complement vision and eye care through disease prevention and health promotion, early detection and risk assessment, care coordination, and disease monitoring. Further considerations include how telehealth can be utilized to achieve population health goals like closing gaps in access, reaching underserved and rural areas, community care, integration of vision and eye care into other health approaches, and fostering patient-centered care.
While telehealth cannot fully substitute the benefits of an in-person eye examination, if executed correctly, initial screenings via telemedical technology can be a valuable access point for the detection of possible eye diseases and ultimately help to prevent vision loss. Additionally, telemedicine can enable care coordination, facilitate receipt of a comprehensive vision examination, and allow for disease monitoring in concert with needed and appropriate in-person care.
Telehealth, however, should reflect a standard of care so that quality of care provided is not diminished. Telehealth policies should also reflect aspects of health equity (including in broadband capability, health literacy, and language interpretation) and accessibility (including audio-only telehealth for those living with low vision or blindness or who may be unable to afford technology to engage in video visits) so that telehealth does not become an additional barrier to eye care or raise additional disparities in access.
As policy efforts around telehealth move ahead and lawmakers consider its role in post-pandemic virtual care, Prevent Blindness will review legislation and Administrative actions and advise on policy in order to ensure that the right balance between in-person, clinical care and telehealth is implemented as appropriate for the vision and eye care patient.