Industry leaders presented in March to new AOA Telehealth Council.

March 18, 2020
Industry leaders presented in March to new AOA Telehealth Council.

Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency, doctors are considering the use of telehealth-based care, as patients practice social distancing to avoid community spread. Prior to the current crisis, though, the AOA recognized the increasing role of telehealth-based care.

Late last year, the AOA Board of Trustees initiated a process to revise its 2017 position statement on the use of the technology and created a Telehealth Council to oversee it. On March 9-10 at AOA headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, the council heard from industry leaders on what the future holds for the technology and its increasing impact and opportunity for optometry.

Eye telehealth is transforming the delivery of eye care and the AOA stands to influence its evolution through the position statement and advocacy. The revised AOA statement on telehealth is expected later in 2020.

"As the industry leader and primary eye health care advocate, the AOA vigilantly acts to preserve the doctor-patient relationship and the quality care doctors of optometry deliver," says Barbara L. Horn, O.D., AOA president. "As technologies and the health care landscape evolve, the in-person, comprehensive eye exam remains the gold standard in patient eye and vision health care. That's why we're proactively reviewing and revising our 2017 policy statement on the appropriate use of telehealth in eye health and vision care.

"Together with our partners, we are setting the direction of responsible eye telehealth and ensuring that those who place profits ahead of patient safety and undervalue the benefits of a comprehensive eye exam provided in-person by a doctor of optometry cannot continue to undermine the highest standard of comprehensive care," Dr. Horn adds.

Attuned to, and anticipating, technology

At the AOA Telehealth Conference, industry leaders representing various companies included Alcon, CooperVision, Essilor, EyecareLive, EyeNuk, Johnson & Johnson Vision, Versant Health and VSP. The Telehealth Council continues to hear additional industry comments.

Council members include chair Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., of New Jersey; Jeffrey Michaels, O.D., of Virginia; Jerry Neidigh, O.D., of Virginia; Selina McGee, O.D., of Oklahoma; Rachael Wruble, O.D., of North Carolina; Bibin Cherian, AOSA president; AOA Trustee Jacqueline Bowen, O.D., of Colorado; and AOA Trustee Teri K. Geist, O.D., of Nebraska.

"It was a very positive interaction," Dr. Quinn says. "We are seeking a broad perspective from industry leaders and others and conducting a more inclusive process."

It was June 2017 when the AOA's House of Delegates passed a resolution adopting the existing position statement on eye and vision telehealth services. The document made the case that there was no substitute for an in-person, comprehensive eye exam and, in great detail, spelled out the criteria for high-quality eye and vision telehealth services. Read the AOA's  Position Statement Regarding Eye and Vision Telehealth Services, approved by the AOA Board of Trustees in February of that year.

"The basic premise of our position then was no matter how you deliver health care service, in-person or through telehealth, you have to maintain the standard of care," Dr. Quinn says. "You can't sacrifice convenience for a lower standard of care in providing any health care service. That is the challenge. There is an important role for telehealth, but some things can't be adequately delivered through a telehealth application.

"It's only been three years, but the technology and the application of the technology is always changing," he says. "Three years is a lifetime in the technology arena."

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