In Greater Shepparton, there is a pharmacist who has served customers for more than 35 years. A fixture of the local community, he knows his customers, their kids, sometimes even their grandkids. He knows the other health professionals in the area, many of the doctors, nurses, optometrists, and ophthalmologists. And he is trusted.
Walking into John’s pharmacy, customers are greeted by the Vision Initiative poster asking people to get their eyes tested. He isn’t afraid to further advocate for checkups for those of his customers he believes are at risk of vision loss: he talks about his own eyesight, refers to the humorous TV ads with John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, and slips the Vision Initiative pamphlets into customers’ bags with their medication. On occasion, he helps customers book appointments with the local optometrist, sometimes he leaves his pharmacy and walks over with them to do so.
Pharmacists like John are integral to what has made the Vision Initiative a success over the last three years. Pharmacists are often the first contact an individual can have with the health system. Their involvement in providing information and recommendations can be invaluable to those who are rarely involved in their own health.
Knowing there are pharmacists like him, who care about their customers, encourage them to look after their own health, and help people who might slip between the cracks get the help they need has inspired me.
John was not alone. GPs and practice nurses also rolled up their sleeves to embrace this project, integrating eye health into their day to day engagement with patients.
It’s inspired me to find even more engaged primary health professionals – whether they be nurses, GPs, or pharmacists in the next phase of the Vision Initiative program.
In 2016, Vision 2020 Australia will launch the Vision Initiative projects in another four Victorian local government areas. We will continue to promote early referral of people at risk of eye disease to eye health professionals, help primary health providers integrate eye health into their practices, and encourage the community to be more proactive about their eye health.
It is an ambitious project, but in its pilot phase it was embraced enthusiastically by those we targeted strongly – pharmacists, doctors, practice nurses, practice managers, and of course, optometrists and low vision services.
While all pilot projects were successful in different ways, Greater Shepparton showed the greatest improvement.
The local activity in Greater Shepparton provided population-level change with health providers integrating eye health into their practices, referring patients more frequently, and the community becoming more proactive about their eye health by seeking out eye examinations.
Some of the key success factors included:
Productive working relationships developed at a local level. The Vision Initiative engaged Medicare Locals (now Primary Health Networks), Primary Care Partnerships and Local Councils and therefore achieved improved traction with health professionals and the wider community.
Delivering training and information distribution face-to-face. This approach yielded better engaged health practices.
Local media campaigns were supported by health professionals and the community as an effective method to communicating eye health messages to the public.
The success of the pilot projects has provided a clear direction for future Vision Initiative activity. I hope I’ll meet many more Johns out there, over the next few years, walking with customers to book eye examinations, and working together with their local community to prevent avoidable blindness and vision loss.