Vision 2020 USA’s annual Congressional Briefing took place October 8 on World Sight Day. The event, moderated by Mitchell V. Brinks, MD, MPH, Chair of Vision 2020 USA, revealed how telehealth systems can address health care challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and serve us well in the future.
The speakers for the briefing were Tony Cavellerano O.D., F.A.A.O, the past director of the Veterans Administration National Store-and-Forward Training Center in the Office of Telehealth Services, with a long and distinguished record using telehealth to improve access to eye care across the Northeastern U.S. from his base at the New England College of Optometry, and Ingrid Zimmer-Galler M.D., who brings over two decades of experience in telehealth, including leading these programs for the Johns Hopkins University Health System.
Victoria Sheffield, Vice President, International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness gave opening remarks on the background and achievements of the Vision 2020 Right to Sight Initiative, which has its 20th anniversary this year, and has succeeded in preventing blindness for an estimated 60 million individuals since their formation in 1999. She also touched on the World Health Organization’s 2019 World Report on Vision, and announced the launch of IIAPB’s Vision Atlas.
Dr. Cavallerano shared the importance of telemedicine for remote care and overcoming barriers to patient care, and its increased importance now with the Covid-19 pandemic. Early studies show that patient adherence to telehealth appointments has improved since the pandemic. The technology is also ready to support telemedicine, with a high percentage of the US and the world’s population owning a mobile phone or smartphone, and with digital imaging devices available that are affordable, adaptable, portable, and that produce good results for applications in eye care. Dr. Cavallerano advocated for legislation to allow for universal electronic health records (EHR) to allow for better telehealth care across state borders, as well as reimbursement parity for telehealth care, which is important for the sustainability and scalability of telehealth. Providing this parity may at first raise costs, but improved outcomes from practicing telehealth (i.e. fewer hospitalizations, and a greater number of patients whose vision can be preserved) will help to relieve the economic burden. Telehealth and related technologies are on the rise and here to stay.
Dr. Zimmer-Galler presented that telemedicine is at the forefront of a changing medical system, and it presents a variety of benefits including direct revenue, and indirect revenue as telehealth attracts and retains new patients. Operational efficiencies improve, and costs can be avoided as less expensive types of care can be provided via telehealth. Patient access and convenience also improve, including better access to specialists in underserved areas. Many issues surrounding telehealth prior to 2020 revolved around lack of reimbursement for services provided. While there is increased demand and a larger market for telehealth since Covid-19, key items preventing its further growth now are policy, and financing. If there is no payment for a service, it’s difficult to provide that service. What has allowed the progress we have seen is that Medicare relaxed its restrictions on telehealth care (including reduced restrictions for type of video platform, and allowing video appointments to be conducted from home), and other payers followed suit. Eye care and ophthalmology are especially suited for telehealth. Telemedicine will be essential moving forward, and there’s no going back.
October 8 saw the best attendance yet for this annual event, with 169 viewers tuning in. The shift toward holding the Congressional Briefing virtually in 2020 allowed more viewers to hear Vision 2020 USA’s message about the future of telehealth. A recording of the event is also now available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/plctS9qRLM8.
This event would not have been possible without the generous contributions of our members. Thank you again to the following organizations for their support.
Alliance for Eye and Vision Research
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
Casey Eye Institute
Eye Bank Association of America
Flaum Eye Institute
Helen Keller International
Himalayan Cataract Project
International Eye Foundation
Kellogg Eye Center
Lions Clubs International Foundation
Moran Eye Center
Pacific University College of Optometry
Southern California College of Optometry
University of Colorado Department of Ophthalmology