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French chain of opticians launches online eye exams

The scheme uses online consultation booths in select stores in areas of France where it is difficult to get an appointment with an eye doctor

The use of online video technology to conduct eye exams is being trialled as a way to overcome the problem caused by ‘medical deserts’ Pic: Svitlana Hulko / Shutterstock

A chain of opticians is to offer online consultations in areas where it is difficult to get an appointment with an ophthalmologist – an eye doctor who carries out tests and provides prescriptions for glasses in France. 

Alain Afflelou has trialled the scheme in five of its stores and plans to add 25 more locations in the coming months. 

Participating shops will be fitted with a consultation room, including equipment to allow doctors to detect issues such as cataracts. Patients will be directed to a practice where they can receive a physical exam if necessary. 

Managing director Anthony Afflelou said: “Our objective is to offer clients quick and simplified access to an appointment with a practitioner in medical deserts [zones where there is a lack of medical professionals].” 

The scheme could be expanded: according to the chain, 200 of its stores are situated in medical deserts. 

Read more: French ‘medical deserts’: Mayor’s plea over lack of rural GPs

Read more: French mobile opticians bring eye tests and glasses to your door

The ophthalmologists are chosen by the company, which provides the technology, and there will be no obligation to purchase glasses afterwards. 

There have already been 2,000 video consultations since the start of the year as part of the test phase. 

In January, an OpinionWay survey for the Rassemblement des Opticiens de France found that 56% of people in France wait at least six months for an appointment with an ophthalmologist. 

There is significant regional variation, with 46% of people in the Centre region and 40% in Brittany waiting at least six months, compared to 11% in Ile-de-France. 

The new scheme is not the only one of its type. 

In May 2021, Point Vision launched an experimental video consultation centre in Saint-Quentin (Aisne), in collaboration with the Caisse nationale de l’Assurance Maladie (Cnam), meaning patients could be reimbursed. 

Patients are seen by an orthoptist, who provides the link with a doctor in Lille. 

In July, the group published the results, which revealed that the average waiting time for appointments was reduced from several months to just 18.8 days. 

Read more: Eye care reforms in France reduce waiting times to see specialists

The centre is affiliated to Point Vision Lille-Lesquin, and a doctor from Lille comes once every two weeks to examine patients who need additional tests, which was highlighted as an essential component in information outlining the results of the experiment. 

The group piloting the tests therefore concluded that any teleconsultation centres should be located no more than one hour’s travelling time from a physical examination centre.

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