When the American Optometric Association advised optometrists to postpone all routine eye care visits on March 19, 2020, many ODs turned to telehealth. Virtual visits have many advantages, like keeping patients safe from coronavirus exposure, improved access to care, and reduced health care costs. It is essential to have a written plan when incorportating telemedicine, before implementation.
Plato may have said that necessity is the mother of invention but now that COVID-19 has demonized the world, Plato’s words have taken on an international urgency. It has manifested in the rapid innovations we are witnessing, including complex adaptations used to split ventilators between patients, rapid development of antiviral medications and vaccines, expedited clinical trials, the temporary relaxation of regulatory rules, and the redeployment of medical personnel to perform duties outside of their normal scope of practice. The magnitude of the response is matched to the magnitude of the necessity.
Amid this surge of ingenuity, telemedicine has been born in the epicenter of this crisis at the Department of Ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. We share with you pearls that we have learned which highlight the importance of timely implementation of telemedicine into practice and suggestions for a triage system with a step-wise approach to encourage success.
Telemedicine in eye care was until now more of a concept than a fully developed reality, a topic of interest that was discussed at professional meetings for many years, a possible wave of the future. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine is no longer a futuristic concept.
Telemedicine is our new reality. And it has become a reality overnight fraught with new levels of connection between physicians and patients, legal responsibilities in obtaining consent and submitting proper documentation, and lastly, learning new billing languages of the virtual world.
Although seemingly daunting, spending time on a plan of action that takes into account known hurdles prior to implementation can make the difference between a successful and failed attempt. And in this situation, one in which our patients need our help, our staff needs protection, and our offices need to stay afloat, failure is not an option.
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