With the federal government's recently released Intergenerational Report highlighting the challenges facing Australia's growing ageing population, a Sydney-based community funded eye health care centre is leading the way in providing innovative solutions to ensure seniors don't go blind unnecessarily.
The Centre for Eye Health (CFEH) will launch a new initiative to make glaucoma treatment more accessible for the increasing number of older Australians affected by the disease, who may not be able to afford to pay for private treatment nor wait in the public health system to see a specialist.
The new Glaucoma Management Clinic will be officially opened by the Governor of NSW, His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret'd). The Governor is the Patron of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, which established the CFEH five years ago as a joint initiative with The University of New South Wales to fight blindness through early detection.
The Glaucoma Management Clinic will operate weekly at the CFEH, based at the UNSW in Sydney, under a unique 'shared-care' model with the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.
In a bid to reduce waiting times for treatment, the clinic offers patients referred by an optometrist or ophthalmologist access to free, regular management of the disease in collaboration with their optometrist.
The clinic's opening follows a CFEH research study, supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia grant, which found a collaborative approach to eye health care could result in improved outcomes for the growing number of glaucoma patients in Australia.
"Glaucoma is a common age-related eye disease, but it is often difficult to detect in its early stages, with one in two affected Australians likely to not know they have it," said CFEH Director Professor Michael Kalloniatis.
"Given the prevalence of glaucoma increases with age, and we're faced with a growing ageing population, we're expecting an overload of glaucoma patients in combination with a pending shortage of ophthalmologists who can treat it.
"The Glaucoma Management Clinic is designed to reduce this expected burden on the public health system through providing a solution before the problem escalates.
"Ultimately we are complementing public health, not replacing it. We hope to support the Local Health District by assisting in the triaging of people diagnosed with glaucoma. This will involve those at high risk of vision loss being seen at the hospital, with stable patients monitored and managed at the Centre, under supervision of an ophthalmologist."
Known as the 'sneak thief of sight', glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. It affects about 2.5% of Australians aged over 50, which is around 180,000 people, with this figure expected to more than double by 2025. The disease slowly damages the optic nerves connecting the eye to the brain, and if left untreated, it can cause tunnel vision and lead to blindness.
Get your eyes checked for glaucoma – early detection saves sight
Professor Kalloniatis urged the public to get their eyes checked regularly, especially people who have relatives with glaucoma, as the disease is hereditary.
"Don't wait until you see changes in your vision to get your eyes examined by an optometrist, because it may be too late to reverse any damage. Your optometrist can advise you on how frequently you need to get your eyes checked, and what to do if you need further help."
CFEH celebrates five years of saving sight
The opening of the Glaucoma Management Clinic adds a new focus for CFEH, which to date has specialised in providing services to help with the early detection of eye health issues. Since its inception five years ago, the Centre has helped over 25,000 people access specialist, state-of-the-art eye imaging and visual system diagnostic services, at no charge.
"In just five years, we have had a positive impact on the visual outcome of many individuals with early signs of eye disease, and on the profession of optometry as a whole," said Professor Kalloniatis. "Our research informs the accessibility, efficiency and best-practice to be followed for early detection of eye disease.
"When it comes to saving sight, we continue to look at avenues to improve and expand health care delivery. We now have a number of peer-reviewed publications providing an evidence based approach to clinical practice."
Today, more than 85 per cent of optometrists in NSW and the ACT have registered to refer patients for advanced imaging and assessment and to receive virtual consults and participate in the many professional development resources and events produced by the Centre.
In endorsing the CFEH's work, Professor Minas Coroneo, Professor of Ophthalmology at UNSW and Chairman of the Prince of Wales Hospital's eye clinic said, "Over the past five years, our ophthalmologists have collaborated with optometrists at the Centre for Eye Health. We have developed a working relationship that we believe is consistent with the aspirations of both professions and facilitate good patient care. We look forward to continuing this work and evaluating the effectiveness of our interaction in piloting a shared-care model for managing patients with glaucoma".
The Centre has also become an important resource for optometrists who often work in isolation or in remote areas. Services are also available to independent ophthalmologists and other specialists.
For more information about the Centre for Eye Health and the new Glaucoma Management Clinic visit
About the glaucoma management clinic
The Glaucoma Management Clinic is designed to ensure compliance with the December 2014 Optometry Board of Australia's guidelines for the use of scheduled medicines. The shared care glaucoma management clinic is designed to assist referring practitioners in the management of their patients.
Patients can only access the GMC by referral from their optometrist. The services provided by CFEH are free of charge to patients with Medicare bulk billing occurring for optometric and visual fields testing as appropriate.
The Centre's two distinct services are:
For non-therapeutically endorsed optometrists: The internal management (CFEH optometrists and consultant ophthalmologists) of referred patients with respect to their glaucoma status. All other aspects of the patient's ocular health will be managed by the referring optometrist.
For therapeutically endorsed optometrists: A shared care arrangement to manage the patient's glaucoma status in conjunction with the therapeutically qualified referrer.
About Guide Dogs NSW/ACT
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT is the leading provider of Guide Dogs and orientation and mobility (white cane) services to enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities independently. Services include providing training and aids including long canes, Guide Dogs and electronic travel devices such as talking GPS technology. Visit www.guidedogs.com.au call 1800 804 805, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.