Lisa looking at StephHub Staff

Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson paid a visit to Saugeen Shores Family Eye Care, Port Elgin on Tuesday, November 10 as part of a province wide initiative through the Ontario Association of Optometrists where optometrists in each riding hosted their local MPP to raise awareness of what services they provide, and what further services they could provide if funding was made available.

Thompson was given a tour of the facility, shown how equipment was used, what the doctors are looking for, what they can look for, what they currently offer for patients in terms of services and what they could offer in the future.

Dr. Kristen Robinson, one of the Saugeen Shores Family Eye Care Optometrists, along with her father Dr. Larry Carr and brother Dr. Greg Carr, said that there are some barriers currently in place that prevent them from being able to do the best they can for their patients, being primary eye care providers.

She gave an example of a patient who goes to the ER because they have a red eye, perhaps going a second time if the treatment doesn't work, then to their family doctor, and eventually visiting the optometrist if their condition still hadn't cleared. “That's four different visits at least that they've gone through the health care system and used up all of this money when they could have just come directly here and got things treated,” she said.

“We want people to be aware that we should be the go-to place for red eyes, we can get people in.” Robinson said that about 40 or 45 percent of people were seen the day-of in optometrists offices and 89 or 90 percent of people were seen within the month for any kind of urgent related care whereas if someone if referred to an ophthalmologist it could be 12 or 14 weeks to get care plus other appointments along the way.

“We're trying to get the word out that it could be a better financial endeavor for the province to have us be those primary care providers.”

In addition to cost saving for the government, Robinson said that it's better for the patient as the optometrists would usually be closer to home and therefore result in significantly less travel.

“We're trying to spread that awareness that we can be those triaging people, Robinson said, adding that since 2011 optometrists have been able to prescribe medication for certain diseases, which she said a lot of people don't know. “Now that we can do all of those things it's a lot more cost effective and a lot easier for the patients to get in.

“We're trying to show that it is financially beneficial for [the province] to try and promote this but it's also much better for care and you're getting faster care.”

Robinson said they also handle a lot of monitoring and management of diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. “We can treat and manage a lot of those diseases that people don't really think about. They don't think of us when they think of disease, they think glasses and contacts and that sort of thing but ... we are a medical profession, we do treat those things.”

In addition to disease treatment, pediatric and geriatric care was also a focus. “Very few people know to get their children checked at 6 months old,” she said. “We want their first exam to be between 6 months and a year old.”

In 2013 only 10 percent of children under 4 years old and 14 percent under 6 had had eye exams. “That's a pretty low number when you consider ... 80 percent of our learning is visual.”

She said that although vision screenings do take place at schools in some areas, 40 percent of visual problems can be missed by a screening.

Grey Bruce is one of the top three regions, with 13 percent of eligible children taking part, for the Eye See...Eye Learn program in Ontario, which is sponsored in part by the government and in part by industry sponsors such as Nikon and OGI. The program offers free eye glasses to Junior Kindergarten children. “Their eye exam is covered by OHIP and their first pair of glasses is covered by the Eye See...Eye Learn.” Saugeen Shores Family Eye Care has provided 30 to 35 pairs of glasses to children in the program.

In speaking about the geriatric population Robinson said that people tend to assume nothing can be done for their condition so they don't get their eyes checked or they don't know if it's covered by OHIP so they don't go because they worry about the cost.

“There's so many things that go on with poor vision in the elderly population that it makes everything more difficult and that puts a strain on the health care system as well,” she said, adding that you are more likely as a geriatric patient to go into long term care three years earlier if you have vision problems and four times more likely to have a hip fracture.

“We're really promoting the prevention and management of diseases with the geriatric population in that if we're able to see them more often and get them in here and be able to monitor things we can prevent [disease] from getting out of control and becoming vision loss,” she said. “It's all about prevention. The sooner we can catch everything, the better. If everyone was aware of where they can go and get the care, that's our big goal.”

Overall the Saugeen Shores Family Eye Care team was pleased with the visit. Thompson was given a lot to think about and said that she had some ideas percolating as to how she could help.Kristen monitorKristen Lisa MikeGroup