February 26, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Every day, American entrepreneurs are developing innovative solutions to address our nation’s health care problems. It’s no secret that American families are being crushed under the weight of health care costs. These costs prevent tens of millions of Americans from obtaining adequate health insurance.
Eye care is particularly suited for telemedicine. Americans often incur significant expense in time, cost and inconvenience in order to see an eye doctor. Some simply live too far away. As a result, while nearly two-thirds of American adults reported having eye or vision problems in 2016, only 13 percent reported having received an eye exam.
Companies like Visibly are providing telemedicine solutions to solve this problem. Visibly offers an online vision test to screen patients for eye problems and update their prescription glasses or contact lenses. The process screens for potential problems with a careful history. It pre-qualifies people before they are allowed to use the system and refers them to be examined by an eye doctor if a potential problem is detected. Every exam is reviewed by a licensed doctor of optometry or medicine, who either issues a new prescription or recommends a comprehensive exam.
Visibly’s prescriptions cost a fraction of a usual eye exam, saving both time and money, so predictably, their innovative system has faced several legal and bureaucratic obstacles. Several states still have an outright prohibition on the use of telemedicine to renew contact and glasses prescriptions online. Worse, companies that offer innovative eye care solutions face opposition from groups that want the government to intervene to block competition.
American Optometric Association President Samuel D. Pierce recently wrote an op-ed in which he touts various Trump administration reforms to reduce restrictive eye care regulations. It may appear that the AOA is for expanding eye care options for the American people, but a closer look at the op-ed reveals that it is advocating for expanding the scope of practice exclusively for optometrists – their constituents: “The bottom line: With more doctors of optometry geographically accessible, particularly in underserved areas, expanding their scope of practice makes good sense.”
As an ophthalmologist, I find the AOA’s scare tactics about the dangers of online eye-exams causing conditions to go untreated to be disingenuous. I believe the opposite to be true. Easy access to online screening with reviews by licensed physicians will detect problems earlier and lead to timely treatments.
The AOA is actively restricting consumers’ use of innovative health care solutions by specifically targeting eye care telemedicine services through state legislation in a transparent attempt to protect their members’ financial interests. It is ironic that the title of the current federal reform agenda is “Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition.”
The AOA failed to mention that the same federal report highlights telemedicine as a needed reform in American health care, stating that “telehealth often increases the virtual supply of providers and extends their reach to new locations, promoting beneficial competition. By doing so, telehealth can enhance price and non-price competition, reduce transportation expenditures, and improve access to quality care.”
Too many people are going without eye care. Telemedicine offers a solution that is affordable, accessible and convenient. Beyond providing accurate, validated prescriptions, it provides efficient screening processes to detect those who need to be seen.
The current system is not meeting the need. The AOA should not be allowed to block innovative solutions that will.
Dr. Guy M. Kezirian is the founder of the Refractive Surgery Alliance.
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