Optometrists are often prodded—by people like me, on pages like this—to do more. See more patients, add new services, learn new things, sell more products, hire more people, buy more stuff. It must be wearying. So I thought I’d start by complimenting you, for something you’ve already done. According to the AOA, in 2016 optometrists diagnosed 320,000 new cases of diabetic eye disease in patients who otherwise didn’t know they had diabetes. That’s impressive unto itself (an average of eight new diagnoses per OD per year), but consider that, just two years prior, the number was 240,000. In a two-year span, the optometric community increased its diagnoses of diabetes by 33%. That achievement may have flown under the radar, especially on editorial pages that always nag, nag, nag. So, congratulations!
“Expanded scope of practice for doctors of optometry has produced historic gains in quality care, delivered superior outcomes, improved the lives of patients and established a primary care success story,” says AOA president Christopher Quinn, OD. “It’s not at all surprising that many people learn of their diabetes risk through a dilated, comprehensive eye examination from their doctor of optometry.” And it “reinforces the importance of regular, in-person eye care,” he adds.
But, if I may, there’s still room for improvement. Because the state of diabetes awareness and attention is still dire. The AOA’s 2016 Eye-Q survey of public knowledge of eye diseases found that only 41% of Americans know diabetes can be detected in an eye exam, even though 72% know that there’s a connection between diabetes and blindness.
Consider that discrepancy a mandate for eye doctors to speak out about diabetes often and unabashedly. I know some doctors feel ill at ease talking with patients about weight, diet and other lifestyle choices that might seem to be beyond the purview of optometric practice. But they aren’t. Too many people are at risk to be modest about it.
Whether you’re just starting out or already established, diabetes is going to be a dominant part of your practice for, well, ever. Prevent Blindness America (PBA) says eight million people have diabetic eye disease right now, and that number will grow to 11 million over the next 15 years. PBA projects the Hispanic population will see the most growth, with cases nearly doubling by 2050. If these patients present a language or cultural barrier to non-Hispanic ODs, try to find other ways to reach them, such as Spanish-language educational videos and handouts, or a public health resource in your community that serves this audience.
It’s for these reasons that PBA has declared November to be Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month. The AOA is doing its part to help by offering educational materials for ODs and their patients. A good place to start is www.aoa.org/news/clinical-eye-care/diabetes-month-17.
Optometrists have already done a great job of getting vulnerable diabetes patients diagnosed and treated. Keep up the good work!