The Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria (RFDS Victoria) and the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) are celebrating 10 years of the Flying Doctor Mobile Eye Care service.
The partnership between the medical service and the public health eyecare organisation delivers comprehensive optometry services to remote and rural communities throughout Victoria, which they say would otherwise face significant barriers to care due to time and cost of travel.
Established by RFDS Victoria in 2013, the Mobile Eye Care Service liaises with community nurses to organise an optometrist visit, typically visiting two communities in a five-day trip. These consultations provide bulk-billed eye exams, referrals for advanced care and glasses, which are prepared at the ACO’s dispensing lab and dispatched by post. The cost of glasses is covered by the Victorian Eyecare Scheme (VES) with a modest contribution from the patient.
Over the decade-long partnership, the mobile service is said to have saved patients an estimated 5,032 hours of travel time. In a recent survey, 100% of patients reported that the service made it easier for them to access care and 90% reported they received care at no cost or at a more affordable cost.
RFDS general manager of health, Dr Melanie Trivett, said that although proximity to hospitals is important for rural communities, the service was designed to provide health services to keep people out of hospital.
“When we began development of rural services, eyecare was immediately identified as a much-needed service and it was clear that the Australian College of Optometry was the right partner for this program,” she said.
“The ACO’s experience with their own diverse outreach programs meant they were uniquely positioned to support the challenges off-site remote consultations while providing uncompromising, comprehensive care.”
With 50 years of public health eyecare experience, the ACO supports underserved Victorians to access quality, affordable eyecare through its fixed clinics and outreach programs. General manager of outreach and rural VES, Dr Josephine Li, believes the Mobile Eye Care service is a lifeline for remote communities.
“For any patient, good eye health is closely linked to quality of life and independence, but this is amplified for residents of rural communities who heavily rely on driving. We know adults with vision impairment often have lower rates of workforce participation and it directly contributes to social isolation in older adults,” she said.
“Partnering with the RFDS to deliver our shared mission of equitable care has been hugely rewarding. The accessible intervention provided by this program including affordable glasses, appropriate treatment and pathways to advanced ophthalmology care, has a significant impact on eye health outcomes.”