How telehealth optometry works

The restrictions around COVID-19 have meant that many health services Australians could easily access pre-pandemic, such as optometry and dentistry, have become a lot harder to access. Social distancing rules, combined with the close contact between you and the health professional, have meant that routine appointments such as eye tests and glasses fittings have been affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

But the good news for Australians is that optometrists are starting to find ways to adapt to the restrictions – which, in turn, means that health fund members will still be able to realise the value of their fund. Glasses and contact lenses, for example, can be ordered from the comfort of your couch.

It’s also a sensible time for members to review their health funds and check if they’re getting value for their policies. If you switch to an equivalent cover, there won’t be any new waiting periods for your optical extras, but you could also save money by moving to a different fund.

Given most people’s experience of opticians will be sight tests in specialised rooms, telehealth may not seem like a natural fit. But optometrists are starting to adapt their services to account for physical distancing and social isolation.

For example, OPSM is one of several optometrists offering remote consultations. These aren’t a standard eye test, but by asking a series of simple questions, they can evaluate your eyesight and advise you on next steps.

Triaging urgent conditions
In the case of OPSM, their telehealth sessions are for people who’ve noticed a sudden change in their vision or have noticed an infection, change or damage to their eye.

Their specialists will run a short consultation to assess whether you need to head into a store, make an appointment with another healthcare specialist, such as your GP, or head straight to the hospital.

These triaging calls mean that Australians can quickly get assessed without needing to leave their home, saving time, and stress.

It’s worth remembering that eye tests are covered for eligible Medicare card holders and can’t be claimed back from your health fund. Some opticians offer telehealth free of charge, but it’s worth checking with your optician before you book.

Can I still buy and claim back glasses or contact lenses?
As long as you have a script, your optician should be able to dispense a new pair of glasses or contact lenses. It’s a non-contact service, so it’s simple to use for anyone who needs glasses, provided you know what frame you want.

Different optometrists will have differing views on what counts as urgent or critical. Some will restrict appointments to frontline healthcare workers, while others take the view that if you need glasses to work and you break them, then you need an urgent appointment.

OPSM, for example, has an out-of-hours hotline offering extended testing for essential workers such as delivery drivers and supermarket workers, who may not be able to book even a telehealth appointment during working hours.

Some opticians will allow you to purchase online, while others offer a telehealth dispensing service for both existing and new customers, and if you purchase glasses you will be sent a receipt that you can then use to claim your optical benefits with your health fund.

Getting the most out of optical extras on your health fund
Even though it will take some time to get back to normal, many healthcare providers are looking for new ways to offer services. So, if you’ve been putting off going into the store for glasses or contacts, it means you may be able to take advantage of these benefits in your health fund.

However, at a time when every penny counts, it’s worth taking time to check if you could make savings. By taking a few minutes to compare policies, you could end up with a better deal.

And, what’s more, if you’re switching to an equivalent cover, there will be no new waiting periods. Even if you’re upgrading your cover, it means that you should be ready to claim when social distancing restrictions are lifted. It’s certainly a smarter way to save as opposed to cancelling your insurance and taking out a new policy at a later date.

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Have you avoided seeing your optometrist during the lockdown? Are you getting value from your health cover’s optical extras? Do you use them every year?

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Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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