Feature, Glaucoma, Report, Therapies

Specsavers surpasses 240,000 glaucoma referrals

Specsavers has hit a major milestone in its efforts to find undetected glaucoma in Australia, ensuring patients now have more time and the opportunity to preserve their sight.

Optometry provider Specsavers Australia & New Zealand has announced its practices have now made more than 240,000 e-referrals for patients with suspected, new or existing glaucoma. Including more than 160,000 unique patients with the condition, the company says the figure is estimated to include 87% of glaucoma that was previously undiagnosed in Australia.

Dr Ben Ashby.

The glaucoma referral milestone is no surprise for ANZ director of optometry Dr Ben Ashby who says Specsavers has been on a preventative eye health journey to improving glaucoma detection and care for patients for the past six years.

“In 1996, the internationally regarded Blue Mountains Study calculated that 50% of an estimated 300,000 Australians over the age of 40 with glaucoma were undiagnosed, despite many attending routine eye tests,” he says.

“This trend was seen as normal amongst clinicians, but at Specsavers, we didn’t think it was fair that patients with a sight-threatening eye condition could remain undiagnosed. We wanted to change that statistic and prevent future vision loss.”

In late 2016, Specsavers collaborated alongside industry partners to develop the RANZCO Referral pathway for Glaucoma Management. It also invested in a team to clinically support optometrists and integrated an e-referral platform into each practice’s patient management system. The initiation of e-referrals enabled the development of benchmark reporting, allowing ongoing measurement and assessment. Specsavers’ final step was rolling out OCT across its network and systematically using it as an additional test for early-stage and normal tension glaucoma.

“By the end of 2019, the provision of OCT was included in every eye test in every practice across the nation, an investment worth more than $40 million. As a result of Specsavers’ full glaucoma strategy, referrals increased and false positive referral rates reduced,” Ashby says.

“We have now detected 87% of undiagnosed glaucoma in Australia and alongside our similar strategies for other eye conditions, Specsavers optometrists are now picking up 93% of avoidable blindness in the community. False positive referrals have remained low. “

To some, celebrating that we’ve detected thousands of patients with glaucoma may seem insensitive, but this is something we are immensely proud of as these large numbers represent individual patients who now have more time and the opportunity to protect and preserve their sight.”

Extended care with Glaucoma Australia

Following the integration of e-referrals into Specsavers’ patient management system, a simplified referral process to patient support body Glaucoma Australia was also developed.

This means at the time of specialist referral, patients may also give consent to be referred to Glaucoma Australia for additional support and ongoing care between appointments.

One such patient is Peter* from Queensland who was referred to Glaucoma Australia by his Specsavers optometrist last year.

Glaucoma Australia patient educator Ms Sapna Nand, an experienced orthoptist, says Peter was referred as a glaucoma suspect which enabled the support body’s education team to establish and maintain a relationship with him from the start of his glaucoma journey.

“To date, we have made four support calls over an eight-month period to Peter. After each call, detailed clinical notes are logged to ensure continuity of care. For Peter, as with most of Glaucoma Australia’s patients, these calls have played a significant role in offering him much-needed additional support,” Nand explains.

“During Peter’s first call with our education team, he explained that he suffered from high levels of anxiety, bouts of depression and significant mobility issues which in turn made attending regular optometrist appointments and adhering to treatment difficult. We encouraged him to attend his optometrist appointments, explained the importance of eye drop adherence and suggested using an eye drop dispenser to assist with his difficulties.”

In the next two support calls, Nand says Glaucoma Australia continued to offer support and encouragement to Peter and by the fourth call there was significant improvement in his attitude both toward using his eye drops as well as his upcoming ophthalmic appointment.

“Peter’s high anxiety levels had reduced, and he had a more positive mindset about his condition. He also happily agreed to continued support calls to monitor his progress,” she adds.

Ashby says Peter’s story highlights the many challenges and obstacles faced by patients with glaucoma.

“It explains why Specsavers’ glaucoma strategy doesn’t just include increased detection rates but also includes a seamless specialist referral process and support body follow up care to ensure ongoing appointments are attended and treatment continues,” he says.

*Patient’s name changed due to privacy reasons

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