Telemedicine: Threat or Opportunity for Eye Care Providers?

According to many experts, the heath care industry is headed toward a transformative change fueled by telemedicine and point-of-care technologies.  While this market is still maturing, many remote and home-based technologies are simple enough to be used inexpensively and in remote settings.  Much of this is driven by the need for accessible, cost-effective healthcare.

News has surfaced the past few weeks about a new technology that is seeking FDA approval to provide online glasses refractions that would bypass the need to see an eye doctor.  The company recently announced that it has received $1 million dollars in funding.  This announcement was met with a great deal of backlash from the eye care community, including the AOA which released this statement.  It’s unclear at this time whether or not this device disrupts the traditional eye care model, but it’s probably inevitable that we will see this or similar technology penetrate eye care.  Threat or opportunity?

Recently Lux Research analysts explored the potential for this market across several specialties.  According to their researchers, “ophthalmology will quickly offer consumers multiple devices for self-diagnosis and monitoring of conditions such as cataracts or glaucoma”.  Also, the aforementioned company is not the first to develop an app that measures refractive error, although most other applications have been directed at providing eye care in remote and underdeveloped areas.

Telemedicine is another area anticipated to greatly impact the traditional health care model.  Will we soon be able to get a medical consultation via Skype?  According to Parks Associates, the number of households using video consultations with physicians will grow, from 900,000 in 2013 to 22.6 million in 2018.  This report also estimated that video consultation revenues will grow from under $100 million in 2013 to $13.7 billion in 2018.  Kaiser Permante recently launched a program called HouseCalls that provides 20 minute telemedicine appointments to about 30 patients a day.  According to a survey by Mercer, 10 percent of large employers with employer-sponsored health plans are already using telemedicine.  While many people still prefer face-to-face interaction with their doctors, the numbers are showing a trend toward greater acceptance of online communication.  Virtual healthcare communications will be largely adopted after healthcare providers are required to offer them to patients because of future Meaningful Use requirements, according to Parks Associates.

Certainly there are inherent threats to traditional health care models as we put this technology in the hands of the patients, but there’s also opportunity to reach a wider patient base given smartphone capabilities and development of advanced technology to remotely monitor patients.  Consider the EyeXam app, which allows consumers to take a self-guided vision screening and schedule an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam and related eye care with a participating eye care provider.  Health care and fitness apps, which didn’t exist when I began practicing, have exploded in popularity in recent years.

What impact will telemedicine and point-of-care technology have on eye care?  Threat or opportunity?

Photo courtesy of 123RF Royalty Free Stock Photos.

About: Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a practicing OD in the Chicago area.  He is also the founder of New Media OD, an online resource devoted to helping doctors strengthen their online presence.  He can be contacted at


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