Is Tele-optometry Coming to an Optical Near You?

Existing technologies configured in a new way sometimes creates new and potentially disruptive services. That’s what DigitalOptometrics, a New York based start up, is aiming for with the launch of its remote “full eye exam” tele-optometry service.

Using the combination of high definition teleconferencing, remote operated equipment and proprietary software, Digital Optometrics is providing full service eye examinations and eyewear prescriptions, all within regulatory boundaries according to company spokesperson Matthew Ruskin.

How does it work? After taking a kiosk-based medical history, a remotely located ophthalmic technician performs the subjective refraction while engaging the patient using a real-time remote video conference unit. A licensed optometrist checks the exam findings, discusses them via live video conferencing and delivers the patients optical RX within minutes. 

The NY-based company demonstrated the remote eye exam on willing “patients” at Vision Expo recently.  A NY licensed OD residing in Oregon, with the help of an onsite assistant, performed the eye health examination, including the use of a remote slit-lamp and a refraction.

What’s the business model?
Digital Optometrics provides a turnkey solution complete with the remote OD services and charges $45 US for a regular Eye Exam and $60 for a CL Examination. The company is focusing on refracting lanes in Optical outlets that are vacant for many hours of the week.  The tele-optometry solution allows the optician to fill their examination lane and, of course, generate an eyewear prescription which can be filled in the adjacent eye wear gallery.

The ECP is responsible for purchase and installation of the requisite equipment. Digital Optometrics provides a list of requirements, which includes a Riechert Remote Phoropter, video slit lamp camera, and a fundus camera. Digital Optometrics works closely to bring offers from all ophthalmic equipment manufacturers and their distributors, including their promotions and sales specials to assist in the set up.

The hardware and software installation includes comprehensive practice training which focuses on equipment software systems, forms and programs. Owner/Operator and onsite tech training includes interactive dialogue with the listed available Digital Optometrics ODs.

While this business opportunity appears to align with the general acceptance of telehealth technology and the changing demographics of the eye health providers, the guidelines from the American and Canadian associations of optometry reflect a cautionary attitude.

Dr. Trevor Miranda, who is actively involved with Care 1 telemedicine network, believes that the sharing economy where you can maximise unused resources, whether it’s taxis or optometric services, may find its place especially for start-up optometrists through opticals.  He adds however, “It’s really hard to replicate a very good anterior segment examination right now. When you look at the corneas, are you going to push on the gland?  Who’s doing that?” Miranda’s colleague Dr. Mike Kim adds, “I seriously doubt it will be a huge significant proportion of the overall patient care. The doctor-patient relationship can’t  be even closely replicated via technology from a screen.”

For now, Digital Optometrics is focused in the Tri-State region surrounding New York City, but does have international ambitions, including in Canada and Latin America.



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