Healthcare and Telecommunication
A new era of health care is emerging, referred to as telemedicine. It is no surprise that in medicine, as in most fields, the convenience of the internet is changing traditional healthcare. Telemedicine refers to utilizing telecommunication to provide healthcare from a distance. Online video communication allows a physician to communicate with a patient and provide medical advice from afar. This is especially helpful in rural areas where medical advice may be hours away from a patient’s home. I think we can all appreciate the benefits that this type of technology offers. However, there are also limitations to online health exams, particularly for eye care.
Online Eye Exams
As far as online eye care goes, there are advantages and disadvantages. There are now websites which have the capability to determine a patient’s prescription for glasses. The jury is still out regarding the accuracy of these exams. This type of technology does not work best for patients who require prescriptions for both distance and reading, for patients with moderately high to very high prescriptions, and more. There is also an inherent danger in these online refractions. A refraction, by definition, is the test to determine a spectacle prescription. However, many of these websites are marketing the tests as ‘online eye exams’ and this couldn’t be further from the truth. A true eye exam requires a doctor who can assess the full health of the eye. A patient who reads 20/20 on a visual acuity chart does not necessarily have a healthy eye. I consider this a disadvantage to telemedicine in regard to eye care.
On the other hand, I have personally witnessed the advantages of telemedicine for patients in rural areas who do not have the same access to eye care as most patients in the New York City suburbs do. While interning at the Tucson, AZ veteran’s hospital, I saw telemedicine play an important role in screening diabetic patients for sight-threatening retinopathy. Many of these people lived hours away from the VA hospital. A staff optometrist would review retinal photos to evaluate a patient’s risk for developing retinopathy and possible vision loss. I feel this type of regulated telemedicine is an advantageous option for at-risk patients who are unable to obtain proper healthcare on a regular basis.
I urge all patients to be aware that online eye tests are no more than a refraction, a test to determine a spectacle prescription. All healthy patients, whether they require prescription glasses or not, should be seen for a full ocular health check up annually to assess his or her risk for glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal detachments, and many other disorders which can occur without symptoms.
Schedule an Eye Exam today.
Dr. Meghan Schiffer