Opportunities and challenges for patients and practices going forward
At the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, virtual visits to healthcare providers peaked. In April 2020, overall telehealth use was 78 times higher than in February 2020, according to data from McKinsey & Company. The usage of telehealth differs widely depending on specialty, with the highest penetration in psychiatry (50 percent) and the lowest in ophthalmology, reported McKinsey. This comes as no surprise, since ophthalmology is an exam-heavy specialty, making virtual visits difficult, according to the AMA
However, telehealth isn’t an either/or option. Instead of viewing it as a replacement for in-person care, many practices are finding success by integrating technology into patient care before and after office visits, or using a hybrid appointment model. Hybrid telehealth refers to the combination of care options that involve both in-person care as well as virtual consultation and care services.
Tips and tools for taking a hybrid approach to telehealth
Some practices found the hybrid model not only streamlined things but led to higher conversions. At Kugler Vision in Omaha, Nebraska, patients come into the office for their diagnostic exams, then schedule a short virtual consultation at a later date to review the results with their surgeon. This approach increased surgical conversions by 10%. Why was the model so successful? It’s possible that patients who go through the two-step process are more serious about the procedure—they’re not window shoppers or tire kickers and are motivated to take action.
Lance Kugler, M.D., finds telemedicine appointments to be “a more engaging and personalized experience than being live in an exam room with a patient.”
Kugler Vision also found that fears about virtual visits negatively impacting the doctor-patient interaction were unfounded. “I actually find [telemedicine appointments] to be a more engaging and personalized experience than being live in an exam room with a patient,” said Lance Kugler, M.D.
As the health care system regains its footing and patients re-engage with physicians, ophthalmology is where some of the most innovative uses of telemedicine are taking root. Surgeons use Rendia’s Exam Mode to show patients realistic, interactive, 3D views of the eye’s anatomy, show condition progression, and demonstrate the benefits of various treatment options. For example, with the click of a button they can show patients what myopia does to the eye, or animate a Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE) procedure.
Rendia’s Outcome Simulator works the same way for a virtual visit as it does in person to show patients and caregivers what they can expect from refractive surgery.
For elective procedures, Outcome Simulator is a great tool that works the same way for a virtual visit as it does in person. You or your surgical counselors can show your refractive surgery patients what they can expect. When you visually articulate the benefits and potential side effects, patients can better envision what their experience will be—reducing their uncertainty and enabling them to make an informed decision. Another perk is that you can share Outcome Simulator virtually with family members or caregivers who may not be able to accompany patients to appointments.
Focus on the positive aspects of virtual care
When explaining the hybrid model to patients, emphasize the positive—for example, that they’ll be able to conduct a portion of the visit from the comfort of home, where they can include caregivers. They’ll be able to “see” their provider virtually without the need for face masks, which can hinder communication especially for patients with hearing loss.
The McKinsey report concluded, “During the tragedy of the pandemic, telehealth offered a bridge to care, and now offers a chance to reinvent virtual and hybrid virtual/in-person care models, with a goal of improved healthcare access, outcomes, and affordability.”
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