Optometry Australia (OA) is working with a group of optometrists with expertise in telehealth to develop evidence-based advice on appropriate use of the technology, as it continues to advocate for specific items on the MBS.
The organisation is building on already existing tele-optometry guidelines with the aim of providing more comprehensive guidance for the profession. The work is being led by OA’s policy adviser Mr Ben Hamlyn
While the organisation is to yet collect solid data on the breadth of patient presentations involving tele-optometry during COVID-19, it said the technology has been used for ongoing management of chronic and progressive conditions, replacement of lost or damaged prescription glasses and the diagnosis and management of acute eye health presentations.
Its recent survey of members regarding the immediate impact of the pandemic – with more than 1,300 respondents – indicated 13% of members were offering telehealth services to patients in April 2020. Further, close to 800 OA optometrists have indicated they are offering telehealth services during the pandemic period.
OA CEO Ms Lyn Brodie believes tele-optometry can play an important part in future eyecare models, particularly during COVID-19 when some patients cannot attend face-to-face appointments due to personal health concerns and government restrictions.
As such, OA is continuing to push for inclusion of optometry-specific telehealth items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) during the pandemic period and when face-to-face care isn’t accessible. This is despite government officials indicating in June that is was unlikely to approve the proposal as it had for other health professions on a temporary basis.
Brodie said she was aware of some optometry practices that have been charging patients for the cost of providing telehealth care, while others have footed the cost themselves.
“Telehealth can support access to needed eyecare when face-to-face care can’t be accessed; it can supplement face-to-face care and be used as an adjunct to traditional care that overcomes barriers such as distance and access issues,” she said.
“Obviously this includes during the pandemic where travel and physical interaction are, or have been, limited by government restrictions and individual’s caution. As the community becomes increasingly accepting – and perhaps even expectant – of telehealth access, we believe that tele-optometry can also play a role in supporting patients who do not have ready access to face-to-face consultations, to access care. This may, for example, support follow-up care with patients seen at outreach clinics.”