published in Ophthalmology Times

An elderly lady with glasses using her computer to access telemedicine.In the July 15, 2020 edition of Ophthalmology Times,® Y. Alvin Liu, MD, Ferdinand K. Hui, MD, and Phil­lip H. Phan, PhD, address some of the unique features of ophthalmology in the adoption of telehealth. However, they omit one particularly important unique feature among many of our ophthalmology patients: Their visual impairment.

Even before the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, blind and visually impaired patients found travel to and from their doctors’ offices to be difficult. Often, they require specialized transportation when public transporta­tion is not accessible. The possibility of receiving care at home for this group of patients through telehealth is of signifi­cant value. Telehealth also makes the patients less dependent upon family members, friends, and others to help them with their transportation needs.

Blind and visually impaired patients often have depression and other men­tal health conditions associated with their vision loss. At Lighthouse Guild, an important part of the services we provide are in the areas of behavioral and mental health. For blind patients, the need for video communication with their doctors is certainly much less than with sighted patients Often many of our patients do not have access to a smartphone or computer, and a land line or a traditional cell phone may be their only access to Telehealth.

Our therapists have found that audio conferences with their patients, while not ideal, certainly provides continu­ity of care until the patients are able to come into the office for their usual appointments. Over these past few months, using Telehealth, our cancella­tion rate for appointments has dropped by more than 30% and our “no-show” rate is nearly zero.

While in-person patient examination is clearly the ideal, we have found that telehealth, particularly in patients who are visually impaired can be extremely effective and we support initiatives that will allow insurance reimbursement for telehealth to continue.

Calvin W. Roberts, MD
President and CEO
Lighthouse Guild
New York, New York