Telehealth Will Remain Vital, Post-Pandemic

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Just a few years ago, telehealth was on a slow to moderate growth trajectory in the U.S. A 2017 study by the telehealth company Avizia found that most patients—about eight out of 10 U.S. consumers—were largely unaware of how to access telehealth or whether their insurer would cover it.

Then came the coronavirus, which kicked telehealth into high gear. With more doctors and patients physically separated than ever before, telehealth is bridging the gap with its relative accessibility, low cost and usefulness as a diagnostic tool. Once an outlier, telehealth has now vaulted into health care’s mainstream. But will it remain there?

Let’s look at ocular telehealth, which has been part of the overall surge in telehealth use since COVID-19 hit. According to Jobson’s 4th Wave ECP Coronavirus Study, conducted from March 28 to 30, participation in ocular telehealth continued to gain ground compared with the results of surveys taken earlier in the month. 19.8 percent of respondents had already started to offer these services, including mobile apps and other tools, and 30.5 percent said that they plan to offer it in the near future.

These findings are consistent with what we’ve been hearing from telehealth companies, retailers and managed vision companies. Stanton Optical and My Eyelab, two retail chains that already had robust telehealth offerings, have shifted to an all-telehealth platform for their stores that remain open. VSP Global is offering webinars to VSP Network doctors that explore guidelines for how a practice can implement telemedicine, as well as information about telemedicine coverage through VSP plans. VSP’s Eyefinity unit is providing telemedicine functionality to all Eyefinity EHR users to enable efficient documentation and coding of remote patient consultations.

Once the pandemic eases its grip, optometrists will gladly resume in-person contact with patients. But now that ocular telehealth has proven its value and efficacy, it’s hard to imagine how most of them would not include it as a vital tool in their kit.

akarp@jobson.com