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Optical sector must embrace the telemedicine wave

Digital EditionOphthalmology Times, March 15 2019
Volume 44
Issue 5

Keep refractive surgery in forefront when it comes to technology

Technology has revolutionized our behavior. It’s changed the way we stay in contact with friends, do our shopping, read the news, and access our bank accounts. Whatever we’re doing, it’s likely that it’s facilitated by technology in some way.

The best technology makes life easier through simplicity, speed and ease of use. The same should be true in healthcare. Increasingly, patients are calling for more convenient ways of accessing health services.

The healthcare system is adapting to the modern world, albeit slowly. The sector typically has lagged behind when it comes to adopting tech.

For example, in the United Kingdom, there is a growing number of services for people who would like to have a consultation with a general practitioner (GP) via video call, but the National Health Service (NHS) is only beginning to embrace these options.

The NHS’ long-term plan, launched by Prime Minister Theresa May, will soon see patients routinely speaking to their GP via Skype or a smartphone, and refractive surgery should not be left behind when it comes to tech.

In December, the GMC published research into regulatory approaches to telemedicine around the world, looking at examples the UK could learn from. The research highlighted how new approaches can offer streamlined services for both healthcare professionals and patients, as well as increasing access to healthcare, especially in remote areas. When used in the right circumstances, most patients do not see any difference in the quality of care provided via telemedicine, the research found.

At Optical Express, we wanted to see if the same would be true in refractive surgery. We know that many people prefer telemedicine: It’s convenient, effective and fits more easily into the busy lives of patients. Preoperative consultation with the ophthalmologist is a crucial part of the process. It’s the point when the patients ask any final questions they may have, having already had information in other forms and from their optometrist.

Preoperative consultation also is the point when the patients formally give their consent to go ahead with the procedure. Therefore, we wanted to quantify the difference, if any, that having a consultation using telemedicine could have on the quality of the consent process.

Large series

In our research, we looked at the experiences of 11,938 refractive surgery patients. We gave each patient the choice of a preoperative consultation with their surgeon by telemedicine or in person. Following surgery, patients were asked to provide feedback on their experiences so that we could capture clinical data, including factors associated with consent quality.

Of the patients who chose a preoperative consultation by telemedicine, more than 95% said they believed that they were adequately consented for surgery, a similar proportion to those who had the consultation in person. Our figures clearly suggest that whether the preoperative consultation was in person or via telemedicine, this did not have any impact on whether patients felt they had been properly consented.

In the small number of instances where there was dissatisfaction with the consenting process, this was primarily due to a perceived poor outcome of surgery, rather than the method of consent. This research fully supports the telemedicine approach to surgeon consultations and pre-operative consent.

It doesn’t mean we should stop offering in-person consultations, of course. There are many circumstances in which a face-to-face meeting is required. But, in cases in which a remote consultation is possible, the patient should have the choice. Refractive surgery is an area that has always brought together the latest technology with medical expertise and insight. We must extend this to the consultation process. If we don’t, we will be letting patients down.


Stephen Hannan

E: StephenHannan@ OpticalExpress.co.uk
Clinical Services Director, Optical Express

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