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Optometry in the Telemedicine World

Amanda Howard, Esq.

During COVID-19, many doctors and patients opted for telehealth/telemedicine appointments instead of in-person appointments. The trend has seemed to stick. Today, many patients and providers prefer telehealth/telemedicine appointments. The convenience and efficiency of such appointments is hard to beat, especially when certain providers have the capability to deliver the same or similar quality of in-person meetings through teletechnology. Patient/provider interactions that do not always require physical contact with a patient or equipment tend to be better suited for telemedicine. It’s not surprising then that mental health clinicians, gastroenterologists, neurologists, and radiologists used telemedicine the most during COVID-19 out of all major specialties.

It’s also not surprising that optometrists used telemedicine the least. The question permeating the optometry world is: are telemedicine appointments equivalent to in-person appointments? Are there technologies available that allow optometrists to conduct eye exams? Even if there are, do the technologies available meet federal and state standards of care? Whether a technology is available or suitable is two different things. While taking a patient’s history and examining pupils to a certain degree is doable, conducting refractive tests, retinoscopy’s and visual acuity tests have inherent limitations.

On the other hand, consider the situation in which an optometrist is out of town, and a patient has a swollen eyelid. The patient’s description of the problem alone may not be enough to distinguish between an allergy or a stye. That’s where telemedicine comes into play. Whereas in years past, the patient would have to wait for the doctor to return to the office, and then trek to the office on their appointment date, wait to see the doctor, and hope that he wasn’t sitting and waiting for hours, telemedicine can allow for an almost-instant visual inspection and advice on the best care of management.

There’s no denying the pros of using telemedicine in the optometry field. The issue is it allows for the required patient standard of care in all cases. In some cases, optometry telemedicine simply can’t. At least for now.

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As a boutique law firm dedicated to supporting the healthcare community, our goal is to help optometrists comply with all laws so that they can be safe in their profession and practices.If you would like to learn more about optometry as it relates to telemedicine and get advice on how to proceed, contact us at Florida Healthcare Law Firm to set up a consultation today.