I recently returned from the annual meeting of the American Telemedicine Association in New Orleans. This is the 25th anniversary of this organization and they are on the move.
Telemedicine (or telehealth) is defined as the distribution of health-related services and information via telecommunication. My first memory of practicing telehealth was when my son texted a photo of his friend’s eye from the middle school cafeteria which he described as "funky."
The mission of telehealth is to expand the reach of care to the people who need it. The biggest market seems to be healthcare systems with small hospitals who need access to specialty care. The focus of this group tends to be shifting from technological advancements to improving the patient-provider interaction and the quality of that experience.
Every specialty I could think of was represented and eye care was a very small part of it. It was standing room only at the Medicare session because the rules about payments for telehealth services are being defined and updated. Interestingly, the speaker for this session remoted in.
In eye care, the most “mature” telehealth program seems to revolve around the use of retinal photos to monitor for diabetic retinopathy. Fueled by affordable retinal cameras and the drive for improved HEDIS scores, many companies exist to match diabetic patient photos with a reader of those images. Look for robots that can read fundus camera images.
What I also came to realize is that diabetic retinopathy is very well defined and commonly understood by a wide range of professionals. Plus the growth of diabetes ensures a long line of patients needing on-going care.
However, there is still a good deal of disagreement about how much of an eye exam can be provided by distance providers. The technology continues to improve and patients’ desire for this type of interaction is becoming stronger. I am confident that there is a way to deliver high quality eye care that is safe and effective for our patients.
Stay tuned - this is going to be exciting!
I will keep you posted,