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Remote, Online Eye Care Could Help Rural Floridians

Florida's telemedicine bills would authorize providers to use telehealth to perform patient evaluations online, including eye exams. (SofieZborilova/Pixabay)
Florida's telemedicine bills would authorize providers to use telehealth to perform patient evaluations online, including eye exams. (SofieZborilova/Pixabay)
April 26, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Legislature is considering bills that would make it easier for people to get some of their healthcare services – possibly including eye care – online.

The "telehealth" bills help doctors use technology to provide services to patients remotely. It's a big change that has many industry groups at odds over the regulatory framework.

However, supporters say the expansion should include ocular telehealth, or online eye care. They say it can provide affordable and much-needed access to people in hard-to- reach communities.

Mari Corugedo, Florida state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens – or LULAC, says her group supports the idea.

"Sometimes online, you are able to get deals as long as you have a prescription, and it doesn't eliminate the doctor,” says Corugedo. “It just makes it a little more accessible for people to be able to fulfill those prescriptions and needs."

But industry groups like the American Optometric Association have been lobbying against ocular telehealth, citing safety concerns and that in-person comprehensive eye exams should remain the gold standard.

For now, efforts to restrict the online options have been removed from the Florida bills as other differences are being hammered out by lawmakers.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, which represents medical doctors, says it supports telehealth as a means to expand the physician-patient relationship beyond the exam room.

Linda Sherry, director of national priorities with the group Consumer Action, says safeguards would remain in place when being checked by a doctor online, who can ultimately decide whether an in-person visit is necessary.

"If you think about it, this is really kind of pushing in on the gravy train of optometrists, because optometrists would love to have you back in the office for a full-scale exam, even though that may only be a year from when you got your eyes tested," says Sherry.

Both the Florida House and Senate are moving closer to agreement on their respective telehealth bills. For instance, the House version would establish permanent tax credits for insurers and Health Maintenance Organizations, while the Senate wants to offer the credits for a limited time.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL