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Specsavers report highlights Australia’s $16.6 billion major eye health problem

One in every 100 Australians will suffer preventable vision loss or blindness by 2020, placing a $16.6 billion burden on the economy, a landmark report has revealed.

Specsavers, in partnership with major eye disease representatives, has published findings in its State of the Nation Eye Health Report claiming that two years from now more than 270,000 people will experience preventable vision loss or blindness due to an eye condition that could have been managed.

The report – heralded as the most in-depth examination of Australian and New Zealand eye health – has provided unprecedented insights, and is now calling for greater collaboration to tackle undiagnosed eye disease in an ageing population.

“Accurately detecting, diagnosing, supporting and treating clients in isolation is no longer enough,” Dr Benjamin Ashby, Specsavers director of optometry professional advancement, said.

“As an industry, we need to collaborate further if we want to truly improve health outcomes for Australians and work toward a country that no longer has its people living with avoidable blindness and vision loss.

The report mapped more than six million patient journeys, and has the support of major eye disease bodies Glaucoma Australia, Diabetes Australia and the Macular Disease Foundation Australia.

Of the 270,000 cases by 2020, it estimated 41,900 will stem from glaucoma, 91,300 from macular degeneration, 126,400 from cataracts and 13,440 from diabetic eye disease – all diseases that can be asymptomatic but prevented or reduced by a routine eye test.

According to the report, each year this costs the economy $16.6 billion, which is 10% of health system expenditure. Vision loss is preventable or treatable in 90% of cases, and Australians have made it clear that they value their eyesight.

The study found 62% of people said eyesight was the sense they would least like to lose, while 83% said their eyesight was priceless and something they would not give up for any amount of money.

Despite this, almost four in 10 Australians have not had an eye test in the past year. With a rapidly ageing population and 50% of people over the age of 50 likely to develop an eye condition, vision loss is expected to become the most prevalent condition amongst older Australians in future years.

Due to advancements in technology and better collaboration, in the past year Specsavers optometrists found 30,000 Australians with indications of glaucoma, more than double those detected in the year prior.

The report indicates that if all practitioners implemented collaborative initiatives, benchmarking and RANZCO Guidelines supported by OCT, then more than 80,000 Australians with signs of glaucoma would be detected next year alone. If two million more Australians had an eye test, this number would increase to 100,000.

Capturing eye health data has also enabled the creation of industry benchmarking reports, which provide optometrists with the opportunity to understand national average referral rates and ensure their practice is consistent with other practitioners, the report states.

RANZCO guidelines for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are other collaborative initiatives helping manage eye conditions.

RANZCO CEO Dr David Andrews said these guidelines were making headway.

“When certain signs or symptoms are identified, the use of the RANZCO Guidelines for management of glaucoma, AMD and diabetic retinopathy can assist optometrists, GPs and other health professionals to ensure Australians receive the best care possible, in the most appropriate timeframe and with the appropriate healthcare provider.”

The report also revealed most people were not taking preventative measures to look after their eye health. More than half of Australians over the age of 40 have reported experiencing at least one eyesight issue for which they did not seek advice, with the most common complaints not being able to see up close, or in the distance, as well as they used to.

Between 33% and 50% of Australians can’t recall having an eye test in the past two years, even though 85% think everyone should have their eyes tested at least once every two years. Fewer than one-third of people have had a conversation about their family’s eye health history.

Glaucoma Australia CEO Mrs Annie Gibbins said routine eye tests were the first port of call for many who ended up with preventable but irreversible blinding eye conditions.

Gibbins called on over 40s to value their eye health by getting their eyes examined by an optometrist: “We would be a lot closer to eliminating glaucoma blindness, which has no cure and currently affects around 300,000 Australians.”

Other key findings in the report revealed as many as one in four children have an undiagnosed eye condition. Early detection of childhood eye conditions before a child is eight-years-old is critical as issues uncovered after this time are often untreatable in later stages of life.

Once over the age of 40, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were three times more likely to suffer vision loss or blindness than non-Indigenous Australians.