When the lack of access to quality health care among populations is discussed, eye care is typically overlooked in the discussion. However, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a large group of Americans have eye conditions which go undiagnosed or untreated.
- Approximately 14 million Americans aged 12+ have self-reported visual impairment defined as distance visual acuity of 20/50 or worse. Among them, more than 11 million Americans could have improved their vision to 20/40 or better with refractive correction.
- Of the estimated 61 million US adults classified as high risk for serious vision loss, only half have actually visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months.
- Approximately 8.2% of Americans with self-reported vision problems do not have health insurance.
A virtual care platform shows great promise for improving patient care while increasing access to specialty care, especially for patients in underserved areas. There are questions of how thorough of an eye check-up can be provided through virtual care – as physical tests are often required to diagnose the patient. Virtual consults might not replace the one-on-one appointment but virtual visits can be leveraged to monitor the patient’s condition. By utilizing virtual visits, ophthalmologists and optometrists can check on patients who are unable to secure reliable and/or affordable transportation to follow-up appointments with distant specialists.
Also, virtual visits can be used if a patient is concerned about a sudden change in the look or feel of their eye, which can be a result of pink eye or a stye. Minor and common eye conditions can be safely and accurately diagnosed via video technology and follow-up can be conducted through a virtual care platform. Currently, virtual care is being practiced by hospitals such as Wills Eye and the VA.
While there is work to be done in the advancements of virtual care in the eye care space, there is also great opportunity. Virtual care can enhance access to convenient and quality eye care and overall outcomes for patients and the healthcare system. Moving forward, more eye care specialists will “see” the value of using a virtual care platform to reach and treat more patient populations.