Specsavers has completed its world-first initiative to incorporate optical coherence tomography (OCT) into the standard eye exam of every Australian patient, with the technology now installed in all of the company’s practices.
The announcement coincides with the release of new data showing Specsavers’ optometrists are detecting eye disease earlier than before.
For the past three years, the optical chain has been undertaking a $40 million program to install a Topcon Maestro Fully Automated OCT/Fundus Camera into each of its locations across Australia and New Zealand. The company’s Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, practice opened on 11 September, becoming the 334th and final Australian store to complete the fit out. Going forward, all new stores will be fitted with the technology as standard.
Specsavers is now the only national optometry provider to make OCT available to every one of its patients at no additional cost. During the next 12 months the company expects to conduct four million eye tests incorporating OCT, delivering the world’s largest every-patient eye disease detection program.
The roll out also means the company has access to an unrivalled dataset of more than 8.5 million patients. Specsavers optometrist Mr Michael Simpson said this was a “ground-breaking” development.
“When you compare the referral data before and after OCT was implemented, you can see the remarkable difference that using this technology on every patient is making,” he said.
“For example, from July to December 2017, when OCT was only used by 4% of Specsavers practices, 10,562 patients were referred to specialists for suspected glaucoma (0.68% of patients). In January to June 2018, when 83% of Specsavers practices used OCT, this number doubled to 20,516 (1.3% of patients).
“Similarly, diabetic retinopathy referrals have increased from 3,109 (of which 366 were identified with macular oedema) in that same 2017 date period, compared to 6,494 (of which 620 were identified with macular oedema) in 2019.”
The data also reveals 53% of Specsavers patients referred to ophthalmology for glaucoma are new suspects being referred for the first time, an indicator the technology is helping identify the suspected 50% of undiagnosed cases in Australia.
Additionally, first assessment glaucoma referrals are highest for those under the age of 49 (72.8% for people under the age of 40 and 68.7% for people 40-49), suggesting the use of OCT is helping to detect signs of glaucoma earlier.
“It’s exactly what we want to see because it validates the way we are using the technology,” Simpson added.
While the technology has helped glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy detection levels align closer with internationally published prevalence rates, the diagnostic sensitivity of OCT and the additional clinical information is also enabling optometrists to detect macular oedema at improved levels.
Glaucoma Australia (GA) CEO Ms Annie Gibbins said: “GA welcomes the widespread usage of OCT within the Specsavers network and believes it is having a tangible impact in the glaucoma arena.
“There are currently 300,000 Australians living with glaucoma but half of them don’t know they have it. The increasing use of OCT at the optometric level is helping contribute to a significant drop in the average age of diagnosis – in essence, we are picking up more patients and finding them sooner which is fantastic news.”
Diabetes Australia CEO Dr Greg Johnson said diabetes was a complex condition and early detection of problems and treatment is key to preventing vision loss.
“If optometrists can detect problems earlier utilising technology like OCT, then people can get earlier treatment, and damage is more likely to be prevented, meaning people can keep their sight.”
Topcon’s authorised Australian distributor Device Technologies has handled the installation, delivery and training for the Specsavers roll out. Specsavers expects to publish additional data with the release of the 2019 State of the Nation Eye Health Report next month.