Ramping Up Telehealth

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Berkeley Optometry is now offering Telehealth appointments. Telehealth appointments are conducted via a private video conference between the doctor and the patient.

While our clinic continues to provide essential in-person eye care for our community, to reach patients that are not able to come to the clinic, we have marshalled the expertise of our staff and the can-do nature of faculty to offer telehealth appointments. This innovative approach to eye care, while not feasible for all conditions, expands our ability to “see” patients without actually being in the room with them. This provides an extra measure of safety and convenience for both our patients and our doctors.

Within two weeks of the first shelter-in-place order, we were able to offer our first Telehealth appointment. So far, we have been able to consult with patients in our low vision, dry eye, and contact lens clinics; provide ocular disease care, sports vision, vision therapy and binocular vision evaluation; and provide urgent care triage. We’ve done hundreds of Telehealth appointments, and we expect this number to grow each day.

Berkeley Optometry primary care and community health resident Dr. Charlotte Wang says that before the appointment, Telehealth patients receive instructions on how to download and use Zoom, the free video conferencing software. It’s important to note that Zoom offers a HIPAA-compliant telehealth experience, but not all video conferencing systems meet the privacy standards required by HIPAA.

After greeting the patients, receiving verbal consent for the Telehealth visit and discussing case history, Dr. Wang says, “I ask them to use the back camera of their smartphone and point the camera about 10cm away from their eye so I can take a close look. I’m able to see a magnified view of their eyes to assess any redness and inflammation.” At the end of the visit, patient and doctor discuss the assessment and treatment plan.

Dr. Wang says that the Telehealth appointments work quite well for urgent care triage, soft contact lens evaluation, glaucoma education, binocular vision evaluation and vision therapy, sports vision and oculomotor rehabilitation. The arrangement does not work, she says, for comprehensive ocular health evaluation,
specialty contact lens evaluation, and other non-essential eye care such as routine eye exams.

Dr. Meredith Whiteside, Associate Clinical Professor adds that “Patients who have developed a ‘red eye’ during the pandemic patients really like to be able to talk to a doctor. We can perform a detailed history and evaluate the general appearance of the eye and then decide whether in-person evaluation is indicated or if the condition is more likely something benign such as allergic conjunctivitis.”

Once we get past the current public health care crisis, Berkeley Optometry doctors say they will look forward to seeing their patients in-person, “but for now,” says Dr. Whiteside, “Telehealth will help us check in on how our patients are doing.”

The success of the Telehealth initiative shows the “all hands on deck” approach to patient care that is the hallmark of Berkeley Optometry. Dr. Whiteside says that Dr. Wang and the other residents “all have really been the stars in the telehealth program — they adapted to this technology wonderfully.” Additionally, Patient Services Manager Angie Gonzalez and the entire clinic staff worked tirelessly to support the Telehealth committee, led by Dr. Harry Green and supported by Drs. Mika Moy, Kuniyoshi Kanai, Carl Jacobsen and Whiteside.