The implementation of telemedicine has become critical to ensuring employees can continue to leverage their workplace benefits to access care, as providers shift from in-office visits to online formats for exams and screenings.
The shift to telemedicine is not new to employee benefits, but the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated its implementation.
While certain care disciplines have shifted seamlessly to an online medium, some employees are unclear on the specialty benefits that are a part of the telemedicine transformation, particularly those services where face-to-face contact seems necessary. Remote eye care — otherwise known as ocular telemedicine — is one such specialty that employees may overlook in their benefits. Ocular telemedicine allows for eye health — a critical indicator of overall health that can help diagnose more than 30 chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension — to not be put on hold.
HR professionals and benefits managers are the single most important resources in helping employees understand what eye care services are covered and why ocular telemedicine is a good option in a social distancing environment.
Here are three ways HR professionals can educate employees on the use of ocular telemedicine:
- Define the different roles that remote eye care can play in employees’ lives. In its earliest iterations, telemedicine was used mostly for conversational care, such as behavioral health consultations. However, with advancements in technology and a shift brought on by COVID-19 to readily adopt this practice, ocular telemedicine capabilities have expanded at rapid speeds, providing advantages to both members and doctors by saving time and money, providing more convenience and allowing for more immediate personalized care at home. Most recently, insurer-approved methods of ocular telemedicine have evolved beyond only real-time methods of communication. Now, many vision benefits allow consultations between patients and providers to happen asynchronously, where communication does not have to be in real time. There are also home monitoring options, where employees can be continually assessed and monitored by their eye care provider through regularly scheduled video calls and at-home updates provided by the patients.
- Let employees know how telemedicine can enhance their relationships with eye care providers. The term ocular telemedicine includes many capabilities beyond just a virtual eye exam — and it’s still evolving. It could mean using a smartphone app to message an optometrist or ophthalmologist, taking a do-it-yourself online test to generate prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses or even participating in a video screening at a point-of-service location. While ocular medicine at this time cannot entirely replace the value of in-office visits, these capabilities can strengthen the relationship between employees and their eye care professionals. And health plans are quickly progressing their policies to cover these services.
- Educate employees on the economic benefits of continuing eye exams via telemedicine. The fact is, eye exams can improve long-term overall health outcomes by preserving eyesight and detecting systemic diseases. Add to that the ability to supervise care through vision benefits that reimburse for ocular telemedicine at home. The result is care that is cost-effective in reducing hospitalizations and lost work time — this is particularly critical as people deal with the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, according to an analysis done by the American Telemedicine Association, studies show that outcomes using telemedicine technologies in coordination with “usual care” were similar or better than outcomes with “usual care” alone.
Ocular telemedicine will undoubtedly affect the future of eye care and how people understand their vision health. However, it will only be effective in the workplace if employees understand the services available and how to access them using their vision benefits.
By providing information and tools on the use, importance and outcomes for eligible employees, HR professionals have the opportunity to be advocates for a healthy workforce.
About the Author
Dr. Mark Ruchman is the chief medical officer at Versant Health, a managed vision care company focused on creating an integrated and seamless experience for health plans, members and eye care professionals across the total eye health value chain.