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Tele-optometry is a fairly recent advancement in medicine made possible by modern communication devices such as smartphones. Through the use of the internet and special apps, a person can have a virtual visit with a doctor, who can ask them questions and perform certain types of exams without you needing to see them in person at a physical location.
What Can Tele-Optometry Help With?
Tele-optometry can help you with several routine exams you ordinarily would need to physically visit an optometrist to get help with. One of the most common uses of tele-optometry is to conduct vision tests, which can often get you an accurate glasses or contact prescription without ever having to leave your home.
In a story from CNN, reporter Jacqueline Howard noted that an in-person eye exam and an online eye test produced the same prescription results. While that same story highlights that these online tests cannot catch every complication a person may have with their vision, these tests can at least produce useful, albeit limited, results.
Telehealth, the broader branch of medicine involving online visits, is a good fit for patients with minor problems that don’t require specialized tools and a hands-on time with a doctor to diagnose.
The Limits of Tele-Optometry
Tele-optometry is not an outright replacement for traditional in-person doctor’s visits.
For example, the primary company discussed in Jacqueline Howard’s story, Opternative, has focused their efforts on helping patients get glasses and contact prescriptions from home. You can expect your remote eye exam to be a refraction test, which is mostly just to determine what, if any, visual correction aids you may need.
Subtle vision problems and those not visible on the surface of the eye may be impossible to detect via an online telehealth visit. It’s also worth noting that the American Optometric Association and several other bodies have raised legitimate concerns over the companies running these telehealth apps. Some have gotten into legal trouble misrepresenting themselves and failing to get the proper FDA approval for their apps.
How Do Telehealth Eye Exams Work?
While the specifics can vary by company and your needs, a telehealth eye exam usually requires these things:
- Internet access
- Smartphone and/or computer
- About 20 minutes
Before your visit, you will need to have an account with the company. Check pricing and coverage, as some insurance companies will not cover telehealth visits or have specific requirements in order for you to get coverage.
Some online vision tests don’t require that you interact with a doctor. Instead, you will follow instructions intended to test your visual acuity and collect various data points meant to generate a prescription. At least one such test uses both a smartphone and computer together. Your results will then be confirmed by a doctor, who can write your prescription.
Can Tele-Optometry Replace In-Office Visits?
Tele-optometry cannot replace in-office visits. A thorough examination requires that you visit a doctor’s office. It simply isn’t possible to do this kind of comprehensive exam remotely.
Instead, think of tele-optometry as a supplemental option for a more comprehensive vision care plan. If your only concern is updating your glasses prescription, the evidence suggests tele-optometry is a suitable alternative to an in-person visit. However, you’ll still need to stick to your schedule of in-person eye exams, so your eye doctor can identify any developing issues.
The Growth of Tele-Optometry
Telemedicine saw a significant jump in popularity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but that growth has since stabilized. The rapid adoption of remote options that the pandemic pushed providers into has made the spread of tele-optometry essentially inevitable.
Tele-optometry holds promise as a useful branch of medicine, especially for those with limited access to more traditional care. Recent years have emphasized the benefits of remote care, which is sometimes not just convenient to patients but also the only available option.
Are telehealth eye exams accurate?
For most patients seeking a glasses or contact prescription, telehealth eye exams have a comparable level of accuracy to traditional exams. However, some doctors have noted concerns that issues such as astigmatism may get missed in a remote test.
Research on more comprehensive remote eye exams is limited at this time. The consensus of the medical community is that remote medicine is a useful option for those with minor problems or who have no alternative access to an eye doctor. Generally speaking, an in-person exam is preferable and the only way to get a proper diagnosis for some conditions.
How do remote eye exams work?
First, make sure you have a strong internet connection and a smartphone. Then, find a company that provides remote eye exams, research how their process works, and set up an account with them. You may need a smartphone and a computer for your exam.
The process is noninvasive and usually straightforward, taking slightly less time than an in-person exam. Follow all instructions given by your app and any medical professionals with whom you speak.
Is tele-optometry a scam?No, but there is some nuance worth discussing. Some companies make promises or imply certain things about their services that are dishonest or inaccurate.
If you don’t treat remote eye tests as a replacement for regular visits to your eye doctor, and instead use them to keep your glasses or contact prescription updated and accurate, telemedicine is a convenient option worth considering.
AOA Calls for FDA Investigation Into Retailer’s Remote Vision Test. (March 2020). American Optometric Association.
Survey: Telehealth Use Increases Overall in 2021, but Growth Stabilizes. (November 2021). MobiHealthNews.
The Doctor Will ‘See’ You Now: Online vs. In-Person Vision Tests. (March 2018). CNN.
Utility of Teleconsultation in Accessing Eye Care in a Developing Country During COVID-19 Pandemic. (January 2021). PLOS ONE.
Tele-Ophthalmology: Need of the Hour. (July 2020). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.