After July 1, 2017, optometrists and ophthalmologists (“Ophthalmic Providers”) in Virginia will be able to practice through telehealth. Va. Code § 54.1-2400.01:2 permits Ophthalmic Providers to establish a bona fide provider-patient relationship “by an examination through face-to-face interactive, two-way, real-time communication” or through “store-and-forward technologies.” Licensed Ophthalmic Providers may establish a provider-patient relationship so long as the provider conforms to the in-person standard of care. To the extent that an Ophthalmic Provider actually writes a prescription, the Ophthalmic Provider must also obtain an updated patient medical history and make a diagnosis at the time of prescribing. However, like most telehealth laws in other states, the Virginia law prohibits issuing a prescription solely by use of an online questionnaire.
By comparison to other telehealth laws, the Virginia law is progressive not only because it permits Ophthalmic Providers to establish a valid provider-patient relationship through store-and-forward technologies, but that it addresses the need for telehealth laws that specifically apply to Ophthalmic Providers. As of July 1, Ophthalmic Providers in Virginia can begin prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses using real time and store-and-forward telehealth modalities. Since Virginia already has remote prescribing and parity laws in place, Ophthalmic Providers should feel free to immediately begin using these technologies to prescribe in accordance with the new law. While it is hard to say how many Ophthalmic Providers are ready to immediately incorporate these technologies into their practices, telehealth optometry will most certainly expand patient access to eye care services in Virginia.