Supporting patients through their glaucoma journey: Glaucoma Australia

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As part of World Glaucoma Week, which takes place from 10 to 16 March 2019, ProFile spoke to Glaucoma Australia CEO Annie Gibbins about how the organisation’s services aim to help save the sight of both diagnosed and undiagnosed glaucoma patients, and how it supports optometrists in working towards this shared goal.

How does Glaucoma Australia work with Optometry to support patients?
Optometrists are the first line of defence in the fight against glaucoma. Early detection is vital to saving sight. That is why we recommend all Australians over the age of 50 visit their optometrist at least every two years for a comprehensive eye health check, and if you have a family history of glaucoma or are of Asian or African descent, we recommend you get your eyes checked every two years from the age of 40.

After a preliminary diagnosis has been made, there are four key stages Glaucoma Australia has identified in a patient’s glaucoma journey where education and support from our orthoptists is needed most:

Stage 1 – Prior to a patient’s first ophthalmic appointment

Stage 2 – 1-3 months post diagnosis

Stage 3 – 5-6 months post diagnosis

Stage 4 – 12 months ongoing

Providing phone-based support and automated email communications at each of these stages improves patient knowledge about the importance of treatment and appointment adherence specifically aimed at saving sight.

How and when should an optometrist refer a patient to Glaucoma Australia?
Optometrists can refer their patients to Glaucoma Australia via the Oculo electronic referral platform when they refer their patient to see an ophthalmologist, or via our website glaucoma.org.au/registration. The sooner a person joins our patient support journey, the better; early intervention improves patient understanding, which ultimately increases treatment and appointment adherence.

Optometrists sometimes do not refer glaucoma suspects to Glaucoma Australia as they think it’s ‘too early’ and interventions may ‘alarm their patient unnecessarily’. Optometrists need to be reassured that the four-stage patient support journey has been specifically designed to provide appropriate education and support from this early stage. Supporting patients to attend sight-saving appointments is key to raising eye health awareness and improving early diagnosis rates.

Do you have any advice on how optometrists can better support glaucoma patients in the clinic?
Many patients don’t want to ask their healthcare provider what they feel are ‘silly’ questions, and those who are newly diagnosed don’t necessarily retain the information they are given during their appointment. As this then leads to poor adherence, optometrists need to be patient and spend time carefully explaining information clearly and answering questions in patient-friendly language. Additionally, they should refer their glaucoma patients to Glaucoma Australia for FREE ongoing education and support in between visits.

What progress has Glaucoma Australia made in the past 12 months, and what lies ahead?
Since the introduction of our new patient referral pathway and the integration with Oculo, the number of referrals to Glaucoma Australia has increased exponentially, with 1,656 referrals coming from Specsavers optometrists via Oculo over the past 12 months.

Glaucoma Australia’s mission is to eliminate glaucoma blindness, and to do this, we are 100% focussed on promoting risk awareness campaigns which target the 50% undiagnosed cohort and drive early detection of glaucoma by optometrists. Early detection, scalable patient-centred interventions, and research which is focussed on appointment and treatment adherence are key to saving sight for the 50% who have been diagnosed and are managing their glaucoma.

Improving collaborative care pathways between Optometry, Ophthalmology, Glaucoma Australia and our patients is key to eliminating glaucoma blindness nationally.

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