Today, one thinks of a general practitioner (GP) when there is a health-related issue. Likewise, one thinks of a paramedic in a case of medical emergency or a dentist when oral care becomes a concern. However, it is not quiet the case when it comes to vision care. As a health care professional, the fundamental goal is to provide an optimized patient-centered care that respects the values, needs, and quality of life of the patient.
How would patient care look like without Optometrists (ODs)?
While GPs are not exclusively trained for vision care, Ophthalmologists (OMDs) are less widely available. This would result in an unreasonable, extravagant, and ineffective triage system, where OMDs would have time only for those with vision/life threatening situations, while GPs unequipped to provide comprehensive eye exams. Thus, there would be a great lack of preventive practice; Many eye disorders would go undetected or underserved such as uncorrected refractive errors, binocular vision (BV) problems, glaucoma, age-related macular degenerations, diabetic retinopathies, and many other preventable/treatable progressive diseases – reflecting a reduced standard of care at a societal level. And this is exactly the case in the developing countries where there is a great lack of ODs.
The three “O” professionals of eye care!
Optometry is a crucial part of the puzzle that completes the ideal image of vision-care system in our society. It fills the gap and forms an essential bridge between OMDs and Opticians, the two extreme ends of the ocular health service spectrum; It is the team effort and interdisciplinary respect among these professionals that results in best patient care. This triad of professionals, intrinsically, forms an efficient and cost effective triage system to provide best vision care to the community. An Optometrist is the first impression of the system and is like a hub, where it acts as a checkpoint to screen, treat, manage, monitor and effectively and appropriately direct the influx and efflux of patients to their respective destination of care; Whether it is simply to deliver prescriptions to Opticians for providing specular therapy or referral to OMDs for sight/life threatening conditions. For instance, the early detection of ocular health and BV problems in children are best treated by ODs. This care is crucial because it has direct impact on education and future lifestyle of these children. Among many other professionals, ODs not only contribute to the health care system today, but also has a fundamental influence on how our society will look like in the future.
What is the reason behind many challenges ODs face today?
Unfortunately, OD’s role as a primary eye care physician is under-realized and there are many challenges facing the profession such as: online dispensing, remote refraction, sight testing, inelastic scope of practice, and reduced government remunerations just to name a few. Furthermore, a significant number of the population primarily and exclusively visit GPs for ocular issues and thus receive less than optimal treatment, as opposed to comprehensive ocular care provided by an OD. I believe, all such occurrences narrow down to one root issue – the lack of public awareness about Optometry profession and the importance of its role, not only in optimizing patients’ quality of life through corrected vision and overall health, but also in detecting, managing, and/or preventing sight and even life threatening conditions.
Every step counts!
How much we contribute in raising awareness today will influence on how expansive and appreciative our scope of practice will be tomorrow. We should take every opportunity to advocate and educate members of our community on the importance of complete eye exams. For instance, surprisingly, a lot of people are not even aware that ocular exams are annually covered (by the government) for those under 18 and over 65, while health check may also be covered for all age groups depending on the province of interest. Thus, in our next encounter with a teenager, a parent, or an elderly patient, simply informing them about this notion of government-covered eye exam will be a beneficial and harmonious step forward. There are limitless avenues we can embark to outreach to the community; Every single step counts towards the goal, which is to establish such level of awareness where one naturally thinks of an Optometrist, as a primary care provider, when it comes to any eye related concern.
Written by Merajuddin Iqbalzada – University of Waterloo School of Optometry and Vision Science.