Americans Show New Interest in Virtual Eye Care Options

February 11, 2021
Briana Contreras

Young adults, in particular, are more likely to seek out and place high value on telemedicine for eye care and those in vulnerable populations are benefitting most, according to an annual vision wellness study by VersantHealth.

Americans, in particular, young adults under 40, are showing a new interest in virtual technology and telemedicine for eye care, according to Versant Health's 2nd annual Vision Wellness Study.

The recent study surveyed consumers and health plan executives on their perceptions of eye care in a pandemic environment, including the value they place on eye care services and their beliefs about the impact of eye care on overall health.

In the report, it was found almost three quarters (74%) of respondents under 40 say having access to technology and tools for virtual visits would make them more likely to schedule a routine eye exam, compared to 67% of all respondents.

More than one third (38%) of people under 40 say that being able to communicate remotely with eye doctors would have a high impact on seeing an eye doctor more often, compared to 34% of people ages 40-59 and just 15% of people ages 60 and over.

Health plan execs also see the value of telemedicine: 76% of those surveyed believe members’ use of alternatives to face-to-face contact with eye doctors will increase as a result of the pandemic, the report said.

“With COVID-19 as the backdrop, patients are showing an increased desire for convenient and easily-accessible eye care using remote technology,” Mark Ruchman, CMO at Versant Health, said. “As we look to the future of eye care, ocular telemedicine will play an important role in improving access to care, as patients are provided more ways to address their eye health on their own terms.”

As more services and opportunities are increasing in eye care, Americans are recognizing the importance of eye care now more than ever. For example, 81% of respondents aware of its importance have been receiving an eye exam in the past two years, compared to 77% who said the same in the first study.

For all respondents, including those who have not seen an eye doctor in the past two years, the ability to identify eye diseases and the ability to identify other serious health conditions, such as diabetes, ranked as the top two services that would make them more likely to schedule an eye doctor appointment, supporting the role of eye health as a window into overall health.

Of people who have not received an eye exam in the past two years, 37% say it’s due to cost and affordability, pointing to a need to dispel misconceptions about the costs of eye care.

“Members are realizing that comprehensive eye exams can provide a clearer picture of their overall health,” Elizabeth Klunk, RN, BSN, CCM-R, senior vice president of Medical Management at Versant Health. “In fact, eye exams are one of the lowest cost and least invasive methods at looking at whole body health for early disease detection.”

Although low-cost eye care is available, there remain to be barriers to access it particularly for people in lower income households. According to the report, 81% of all respondents say they have received an eye exam in the past two years, but only 68% of people in households with incomes under $35,000 say the same. When it comes to insurance, 69% of respondents say someone in their household has vision insurance, and that drops to 61% for people with incomes under $35,000.

While 43% of people with incomes under $35,000 say affordability is the reason why they don’t go to the eye doctor as often as they’d like, health plan executives say transportation is the key obstacle for members’ access to eye care services (88%). Where health plan executives are concerned about physically getting members to eye doctors’ offices, members are more concerned with the costs of care.

“The future of eye care requires us to implement tools that can increase access to care for all patient populations, especially those who are more likely to face systemic barriers," said Klunk. "During this pandemic, the rapid advancement of technology has helped us to better meet the needs of vulnerable populations, and we are committed to continuing to explore how it makes healthy sight more accessible."