Online vision care wasn’t invented during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the health crisis accelerated the development and adoption of telehealth and online self-service tools globally. In the United States, a 2022 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that 37% of adults in America had used some form of telemedicine in the previous 12 months.
The implication for optometry, a subset of healthcare, is that patients most likely expect at least a baseline of telehealth and digital self-service options as part of their experience.
Fortunately, innovative technologies have emerged in recent years that enable people to take routine vision exams remotely, renew prescriptions for glasses and contacts online, and perform other simple tasks that previously required an in-person appointment with their optometrist.
Here, we’ll look at the current state of online vision care going into 2023 and some of the new self-service technologies advancing in the market.
How does new technology impact patients and ECPs?
In the vision technology (vistech) space, thanks to advanced smartphone cameras and artificial intelligence, companies are developing transformative self-service technologies that empower patients to perform routine tasks independently, like a simple acuity check.
These modern technologies don’t replace advanced vision and eye care expertise—and won’t anytime soon. Rather, they empower customers to make more informed decisions about their vision care needs while reducing the clinic workload, by offloading simple, routine tasks from doctors and clinic staff.
Used strategically, vistech can encourage patients to make appointments with their eye care professional (ECP) when they need vision correction, leading to stronger retention.
Here are some of the most impactful examples of online vision care empowering patients today.
Online visual acuity tests help patients know when it’s time to schedule an appointment.
Visual acuity tests determine a person’s ability to see clearly at all distances. They’re often used as the first step to screen patients for vision correction.
When people are uncertain whether they need an updated eyewear prescription, they may be less motivated to spend time and money visiting their ECP. Online acuity tests are a low-cost, fast, and convenient way for a patient to check if it’s time to schedule an appointment to update their glasses or contacts prescription.
Clinics can use online acuity tests as a form of outreach, incentivizing patients to schedule an appointment if they fail to pass. For patients who pass their test, clinics can offer a remote prescription renewal service that allows the patients to shop for new frames or purchase contacts.
Online acuity tests can also encourage eCommerce sales because they can help customers confirm if they can use their existing prescription to buy new frames.
Online refraction exams can extend the reach of vision care to those who lack access.
Refraction exams are more complex than acuity tests and help optometrists determine the lens power needed to compensate for refractive errors, like astigmatism, farsightedness, or nearsightedness.
In most markets, online refraction exam technology is still in an early adoption phase. Currently, it is regulated as a medical device in Europe (CE certified), requiring ECPs to review results before issuing new prescriptions. In the United States, several technologies are currently under review by the FDA.
Most offerings today also require that patients be within a certain age range (it’s 18-39 for Luna’s myRx Refraction Exam), not have severe vision disorders, and have a healthy medical history.
In addition to the benefit of unlocking eCommerce sales, online refraction exams are a promising solution for people who lack access to vision care due to cost or location.
However, they don’t displace the optometrist’s role because results must be reviewed by an ECP, who then issues the prescription. Like acuity tests, refraction exams generally are considered routine care, so ECPs can use online exams to drive efficiency in their clinics.
Online and mobile pupillary distance measurement and lensometers increase transparency with patients.
Many people still buy glasses directly from their ECP. As a result, it’s common for patients to leave in-person appointments without the prescription information they need to shop elsewhere. Additionally, it’s easy to lose track of these details over time.
Online pupillary distance (PD) tools and lensometers solve this problem by enabling patients to retrieve prescription information using their desktop or a smartphone camera. As a result, it’s easier to shop for glasses independently, without having to contact their optometrist or schedule an appointment—which will positively impact their overall experience and sentiment.
Online vision care delivers convenience and accessibility to patients.
Patients seeking routine vision support find that online vision care tools and services offer accessibility, convenience, and empowerment. They can take exams, update prescription information, and shop for glasses anytime and anywhere that suits their needs.
Online tools and services give people fast, easy access to more information about their vision and prescription, empowering them to make more informed care decisions and eyewear purchases.
Expect online vision care to grow in 2023.
With vistech unlocking new ways to reach and retain patients, expect demand for online vision care to grow.
Many countries worldwide enacted emergency regulations during COVID-19 to permit more expansive access to telehealth. Patients have become accustomed to this level of access. As a result, with pandemic restrictions now lifted in most places, many locales are considering permanent licensing and rules governing the usage of online tools and services for healthcare.
Online vision care is already a powerful service—and part of the greater trend toward digital transformation. As more tools reach the market, backed by ECPs’ support and government regulation, patients will increasingly expect online vision care and services as part of their overall eye care experience.
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