An Exciting Advance in Telehealth

 

One of the most exciting advances in telehealth has been in the area of online prescription renewal services for glasses and contact lens wearers. Consumers in 39 states can now have their vision tested and prescriptions renewed by an eye doctor licensed to practice in their state, and at a time and location that is most convenient for them. These innovative technologies represent the wave of the future in vision care.

The benefits of online prescription renewal are clear:
Reduces Costs to Consumers: As with other telehealth technologies, online prescription renewal provides a huge cost savings to individual consumers. While the cost of an in-person prescription renewal from an eye care provider averages $163, online prescription renewal services cost just $40 on average.
Increases Convenience: Unlike in-person exams, which must be scheduled based on the eye care provider’s availability and conducted during office hours, online vision tests services are generally available 24 hours a day – and all you need is a laptop and a smart phone.
Saves Time: Instead of taking time off from work and traveling to and from an eye care provider’s office, online prescription renewal services allow consumers to take a vision test in their own home, and, if approved, receive their renewed prescription 24 hours after the vision test is completed.
Helps Rural and Medically-Underserved Communities: People in rural or medically-underserved communities typically must travel greater distances to access even the most basic health services, including basic eye care. A 2015 study showed that 24% of counties in the United States had no ophthalmologist or optometrist, and almost 61% of counties were in the lower two quartiles of availability for the same. Online prescription renewal can provide greater and more convenient access to individuals in these areas, saving them countless hours and unnecessary costs.
Potential for Taxpayer Savings: State and federal governments pay millions of dollars annually for eye care services for government employees and for Americans who receive benefits under government-funded health insurance and direct services programs. These costs could be substantially reduced if covered individuals requiring only a simple prescription renewal could choose to utilize online vision tests.
Improves Eye Health: Medical research shows that wearing contact lenses beyond the manufacturer-recommended wear schedule is one of the leading causes of eye infections. Giving consumers the option of renewing their prescriptions online through licensed eye doctors can improve patient adherence to contact lens wear guidelines and reduce the tendency of patients to wait too long to renew and purchase contacts. In addition, 30% of individuals who attempt to use this technology are informed of their need to obtain a comprehensive in-person eye exam. Individuals are referred to an eye care provider in their local area, leading to an increase in consumers obtaining such exams on a timely basis.

Online Prescription Renewal Can Be Used Safely When a Comprehensive Eye Exam Has Already Been Performed

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, supports the use of “emerging remote technologies in ophthalmology,” including refractive assessments like those used in online vision testing, when used under the supervision of licensed eye doctors. The AAO has concluded that these tests pose “a low risk to patients.”

Leading online prescription renewal service providers make it clear that online vision testing does not replace the need for periodic comprehensive eye examinations performed in-person by eye care providers. The services are only designed to conduct refractive assessments for the purpose of renewing prescriptions.

Importantly, all contact lens patients must go to an eye care provider for a comprehensive exam in order to receive their initial prescription. Following that initial comprehensive exam, the eye care provider selects a unique brand and fit of lens for the patient, who then goes through a one-to-two week trial period, before returning to the provider for a further assessment and a final prescription. Considering this rigorous process to receive an initial prescription, for most healthy adults, there is no need to return to an eye care provider’s office on an annual basis simply to renew a contact lens prescription.

How Online Prescription Renewal Works

The basic refraction tests used by eye care providers to check patients’ vision have not changed since the late 1960s. In the last few years, innovative technology companies working with licensed eye care providers have designed refraction tests consumers can take using their computer and mobile device. [Click on the image below to see our infographic on the online prescription renewal process.]

 

Consumers first answer online questions about their age and contact lens wearing history. Generally, only consumers age 18-50 are allowed to use the service. Next, consumers are walked through the components of a vision test. Then consumers are asked medical questions to ensure that they qualify for an online vision test instead of a comprehensive eye exam. These questions screen out individuals with certain health risk factors, including chronic conditions.

If a consumer meets all of the eligibility requirements, their vision test results are reviewed by an eye doctor licensed in the state of originating site. The eye doctor uses the test results to evaluate the patient’s visual acuity and diagnose refractive error. Online prescription renewal services also limit how many times a consumer can take the test before returning to an eye care provider for an in-person comprehensive eye exam. When clinically appropriate, the eye doctor will then issue a renewed prescription, usually 24 hours after the vision test is completed. Patients denied a prescription renewal are referred to a local eye doctor for follow up and a comprehensive eye exam.