Telemedicine – the practice of remotely diagnosing and treating patients through telecommunications – is revolutionizing the healthcare industry and eliminating burdensome costs and inconvenient appointments from customers’ lives in the process. When it comes to ocular telemedicine, this means allowing patients to visit the eye doctor just once every two years instead of every single time they need a refill or a lens replaced.
Optometrists aren’t medical doctors and rely on sales to keep their businesses open.
Phone apps, such as Opternative, which allows users to schedule a 25-minute “eye appointment” from their couch, and GlassesOn, which determines the refractive error of a patient’s eyes through the manipulation of light on a phone or computer screen, rival traditional eye exams – and prove to be just as effective.
This state-of-the-art technology is liberating consumers from visiting a doctor’s office for trivial matters, such as getting a prescription for eyeglasses or refilling contact lenses. Nevertheless, technological innovation walks hand-in-hand with market disruption, creating enemies of progress within big business and special interests.
What’s the Deal?
Unlike ophthalmologists, optometrists aren’t medical doctors and rely on sales to keep their businesses open. With the the introduction of ocular telemedicine, far fewer customers will physically be entering these establishments and purchasing overpriced contact lenses and eye glasses.
Two big players are leading a ceaseless lobbying campaign against ocular telemedicine, aided by politicians who cater to their special interests. Johnson & Johnson, a company which manufactures nearly 40 percent of the world’s contact lenses, and the American Optometric Association (AOA), which represents over 44,000 optometrists, often receive kickbacks on contact lenses sold within their offices.
Their PR blitz has nothing to do with safety concerns and everything to do with protectionism.
Both of these companies had meetings in the Capitol last week with “key House and Senate leaders,” to warn against the use of this technology. The AOA alone spends nearly $2 million per year lobbying lawmakers on the national level, primarily to block technological innovation and keep their profit margins high.
Johnson & Johnson often cites health safety concerns to justify their beef with ocular telemedicine, stating that it can lead to certain ocular diseases going undetected. The company is ignoring the fact that even users of ocular telemedicine still need to see an eyecare professional once every 1 to 2 years, which even the AOA admits is all that is necessary for healthy adults. The difference is that consumers no longer have to go into an eyecare professional’s office every single time they need a lens refill.
And besides: if J&J is so concerned about “eye safety,” then why does the company often sell its contact lenses in vending machines in other countries? Below is just one example I found in a Berlin airport.
The truth of the matter is that their PR blitz has nothing to do with safety concerns and everything to do with protectionism.
Bills designed to kill telemedicine in its infancy are already appearing across the country. In South Carolina, former Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed just such a bill, stating, “it uses health practice mandates to stifle competition for the benefit of a single industry.”
Similarly, in New Mexico, Reps. Deborah Armstrong and Sheryl Williams-Stapleton sponsored HB 364, which would impose jail time on physicians who utilize consumer-based technology. Other bills have appeared in the forms of HB 1331 in Indiana, and most recently, HB 6012 by Rep. Kevin Ryan in Connecticut, a bill which passed the House on May 11th, but has yet to be voted on by the Senate.
Big business is actively attempting to suppress technologies that should be embraced with open arms.
Luckily, some representatives are listening to the voice of the people, and crony capitalism is losing the fight. In Nevada, Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, the sponsor of anti-telemedicine State Bill 129, pulled her own bill from consideration after listening to the will of her constituents. And according to reports, it has been recommended that Rhode Island’s bill, HB 5674, which would effectively ban ocular telemedicine, should be held for further study.
Proponents of the bill, who argue that the apps cannot equate to an in-person examination, claim that ocular telemedicine is inadequate and dangerous, without providing adequate evidence.
Ocular telemedicine is shattering the status quo, and improving the lives of consumers everywhere. Similar to the taxi drivers who oppose revolutionary technologies like Uber and Lyft solely on the basis of protecting their livelihoods, big business is actively attempting to suppress technologies that should be embraced with open arms.