Decrease in eye-emergency cases over the last three years

Decrease in the number of patients seeking eye care in emergency departmentsA review of emergency department presentations across Australia since 2014 reveals a decrease in the number of non-urgent eye health issues.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare annual Emergency department care statistics on non-urgent eye conditions:

  • 2014 – 2015 26,000
  • 2015 – 2016 25,200
  • 2016 – 2017 19,640

Optometry Australia’s CEO Lyn Brodie attributes the drop to people’s increased awareness on the importance of eye health care provided by optometrists.

She said, “We anticipate that this drop in non-urgent presentations could relate to people’s better understanding of the important role of optometrists in managing Australian’s eye health and that more people are seeking opinions of optometrists for acute eye conditions rather than attend emergency departments”.

“It is clear that our messages are starting to resonate with Australians – regular eye examinations can help to identify emerging, and potentially vision-threatening eye health issues such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, as well as highlighting other diseases such as high blood pressure, propensity for stroke, diabetes and some cancers.

“Our organisation has worked hard to raise the profile of optometry through our Good vision for life campaign and it appears that our messages are starting to have a positive impact,” Ms Brodie said.

Through the eyes of a young optometrist

Young Optometrists member Linda Lam shares her take on the fewer cases of non-urgent eye health conditions.

Linda LamIn recent years therapeutic endorsement has been introduced to the optometry degree in Australia. According to Optometry Australia in 2017, approximately 50% of Australian Optometrists are now therapeutically qualified. Patients who previously would present to their general practitioner for ocular issue, such as sore, red, painful and/or foreign bodies, are gradually bypassing this step to receive direct treatment and management by optometrists. 

As optometrist help triage and manage non-urgent cases, this will lessen the pressure on the emergency department, and allow them to focus their attention on more urgent conditions. Co-management of patients with pharmacists, general practitioners and ophthalmologists has also increased, reducing the number of non-urgent cases being directed to hospitals. 

Moreover, advancement in digital imaging such as optical coherence tomography and retinal photography has aided in screening for conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes and macular degeneration. These are progressive and sight-threatening conditions, which are routinely screened by optometrists. With today’s technology early detection and proper management protocols, and most importantly patient education have been made possible. It has also aided in determining the urgency of referral to hospitals and ophthalmologists. 

The role of optometry is integral in the health care system and with increase awareness many conditions can be prevented, as signs often present before symptoms. This highlights the importance of regular eye examinations and that there is more to optometry than ‘meets the eye’. The role of optometrist’s is to correct, educate and protect vision for all patients. 

Linda graduated with Distinctions in a Master of Optometry from Queensland University of Technology in 2015. Her passion and experience in diagnosing and co-managing an array of ocular pathologies began on the Gold Coast, before returning home to Sydney. She is now managing her own private practice in South Sydney, which has a special interest in children’s vision testing, behavioural optometry, myopia control and ocular pathology. 

Emergency departments understaffed

While Optometry Australia is encouraged by the increased awareness of the importance of eye health care, the Australian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is troubled about the lack of staffing levels or resources to match the surge of patients seeking care in emergency departments.

The ACEM expressed their worries when report from the Bureau of Health Information revealed an increase of 9.4% in the number of patients presented to public hospital emergency departments compared to the same quarter last year.

ACEM NSW Faculty Chair Dr Chris Trethewy said: “We agree with the data which showed that our members experienced a busy winter season, treating patients presenting with the flu, however this was the case last year and we would safely predict it would be the case next year, too.

“Without adequately addressing the underlying problems of access block, overcrowding and acute care bed shortages across NSW, we will not fix the current situation, and patients will remain at risk.”

ACEM President Dr Simon Judkins also weighed in saying, “Emergency doctors care deeply for the health and wellbeing of communities across NSW. Patients that come through the doors of emergency departments deserve the opportunity to experience quality care, in a timely manner and with the greatest chance of positive outcomes.”

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