What is Telemedicine?
The prefix “tele” comes from ancient Greek, meaning “far off” or “distant.” You’re already familiar with many words that start with it. Telescopes and televisions are devices that let you see objects that are far away. A telephone lets you talk with people who are at a distance.
So what is telemedicine? As you have probably concluded, it means medicine that is practiced when there is distance between a care provider and a patient. And chances are that you are already familiar with certain forms of it . . .
- If you have had the results of an MRI or other test forwarded to a specialist or hospital that is not located near where you live, you have benefitted from a form of telemedicine.
- If you have taken an online test to help determine whether you have a condition such as attention deficit disorder, depression or chronic fatigue syndrome, you have also experienced a form of telemedicine.
- If you have used WebMD.com or another online health service to diagnose a health problem – anything from a rash to a headache or a swollen toe – you have taken part in a form of telemedicine too.
Why Is Telemedicine Needed to Provide Vision and Eye Care?
At first thought, you might decide that the majority of Americans already have access to appropriate eye care. Several eye doctors are doing business near where you live, right? Plus, eye care must be available in the hospitals that are located near where you live.
Those observations might lead you to conclude that most Americans already have access to quality eye care. But when you review some of these statistics amassed by the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it becomes clear that there are vast numbers of Americans experience vision and eye problems – so many, in fact, that many of their eye conditions go undiagnosed or untreated . . .
- Approximately 14 million Americans aged 12 years and older have self-reported visual impairment defined as distance visual acuity of 20/50 or worse. Among them, more than 11 million Americans could have improved their vision to 20/40 or better with refractive correction.
- 1,600,000 Americans aged 50 years and older have age-related macular degeneration.
- 3 million Americans (about 2.5% of the total population) aged 18 years and older have diabetic retinopathy.
- 5 million Americans (about 16% of the total population) aged 40 years and older have cataracts.
- 2 million Americans (about 2% of the total population) aged 40 years and older have glaucoma.
And where do those Americans live? All across the nation, including in areas that are underserved by hospitals, physicians and other health care providers. That explains the need for eye examinations that can be administered remotely to Americans who live in many parts of the country.
Telemedicine Will Meet the Need
What will bridge the gap and provide needed diagnostic eye screenings to all those Americans? Here are some trends to watch . . .
- Self-operated vision testing devices, like the SVOne from Smart Vision Labs, will be installed at thousands of locations where they will allow individuals to quickly and inexpensively obtain prescriptions for corrective prescriptions.
- Self-operated vision testing devices will arrive in stores and other locations that are already widely available in many locations where the need for professional eye care is not being met.
- Self-operated vision testing machines will gain wider usage in hospitals, clinics, optometrists’ offices and other locations, making quality vision tests available more quickly and conveniently to millions of Americans who do not currently have access to them.
The Age of Remote Eye Care Has Dawned
Can telemedicine meet the medical needs of all Americans who need eye care? Not in all cases, because individuals with certain conditions like macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy will still require the care of physicians who specialize in eye care.
Yet telemedicine stands ready to provide quality diagnostic vision testing to millions of Americans. We are about to live in an age when fewer and fewer Americans will have to live with the burden of poor vision. It will truly be a brave new world of better vision, thanks to telemedicine and advanced vision technology.