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How Telemedicine will Play a Larger Role in Optometry: Pros and Cons

March 01, 2018

How Telemedicine will Play a Larger Role in Optometry: Pros and Cons

By Doug Bennett, Contributor


Telemedicine—the exchange from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s health status—is revolutionizing how patients access modern healthcare. Thus far, the outcomes appear to be mostly beneficial for patients. Who can argue with more convenient access to health practitioners, faster access to specialists and reduced healthcare costs?


Telemedicine already plays a significant role in the diagnosis of eye diseases, including increasing patient access to quality eye care from leading optometrists, as well as patient compliance with treatments. One example of the positive impact telemedicine can have on eye health involves patients with diabetes.


Diabetic retinopathy affects over 5 million people in the United States, one-third of whom are unaware of their condition. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to go blind than those without the disease. But the chances of experiencing a loss of vision are greatly reduced with early detection and treatment. Therefore, it is extremely important to increase awareness among diabetics about the need for regular eye examinations, where telemedicine can play a beneficial role.


Non-mydriatic cameras can now be used to perform retinal screenings in diabetics without the need to dilate the eyes. As a result, screening rates have increased. Researchers monitored the number of diabetic patients who had a recommended retinal examination prior to the time when a telemedicine remote imaging system was implemented versus the number of diabetic patients who had the retinal examination within two years after the system came online.


In year one, only 15 percent of patients in the study had a retinal examination. But two years after the telemedicine system was installed, 71 percent of the patients had a retinal examination. This significant increase suggests that patients were not only willing to embrace new remote imaging approaches, but they also had developed greater overall awareness of the potential risks they faced due to the mere presence of telemedicine options. Few programs have demonstrated such a positive impact on overall diabetic retinopathy evaluation rates.


Despite the myriad advantages of utilizing the latest technology to improve access to optometrists and other healthcare practitioners, the adoption rate of telemedicine is still limited due to several constraints and disadvantages.


Technological breakdowns are typically the most common barrier to effective use of telemedicine in optometry and other medical fields. No one wants to schedule precious time for a virtual visit with an optometrist and then learn that a remote examination isn’t feasible due to a network glitch or camera malfunction.


In addition, the limited range of diagnostic procedures that can be done remotely using telehealth technology versus what can be done during an in-person office visit with an optometrist is another constraint.


One consequence of the greater use of telemedicine in optometry and other medical specialties is the impact on continuity of care. Sustaining a long-term relationship between doctors and patients can be beneficial because it enables practitioners to develop a better sense of a patient’s overall lifestyle and other meta factors that can facilitate making more individualized diagnoses and treatment plans. With telemedicine, patients are sometimes seen on a first come, first served basis, which can disrupt the normal evolution of a doctor-patient relationship. Although this problem is not insurmountable, it is something patients should remain mindful about when they choose to go the telemedicine route.


Merritt Hawkins professional recruiters are ready to help you find your next physician, optometrist or other allied health job. Take time to browse through our robust jobs database, which features openings of every stripe in a variety of places and work settings. Then, contact one of our expert recruiters to discuss next steps.

 


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