I am very proud of the strong public health eye care services, education and vision research carried out by the Australian College of Optometry towards improving eye health outcomes for the communities we support. The ACO was established nearly 80 years ago and we carry out around 75,000 eye care consultations annually. ACO works towards meeting unmet need in the provision of accessible and affordable eye care services to disadvantaged and underprivileged people in Australia.
Our team of 150 clinicians, educators, researchers and specialist staff work towards developing and improving eye health. We focus on service delivery along with improving models of care, eye health care pathways and quality of care. ACO also provides high quality eye health education and clinical training to optometry students and the profession. We also work to improve our understanding of eye conditions and diseases to improve prevention, management, and treatment.
The ACO’s philosophy is to provide patient-centred care to people experiencing disadvantages where they live. Our clinical hub, spoke and outreach model includes mobile eye care and education to community centres, homeless shelters and migrant facilities, schools, aged care facilities and supported residential services for those at risk of homelessness, in both urban and rural areas.
“In 2017, we visited one of our rural supported accommodation sites for the first time. The site houses people with mental illness who need additional support. We conducted an eye examination on a 70-year-old lady who reported she had not had an eye exam since she was in her twenties. She had visually significant cataract, reducing her uncorrected vision to 6/60 (legally blind) and was unable to read, watch television or do many other day-to-day activities. After a full eye examination we arranged a referral for her to the local ophthalmology service for cataract surgery. At a subsequent visit to the site in 2018 we examined her again. She reported having had both cataracts removed, and her unaided vision was now better than 6/9 in each eye. She was able to read again with glasses, significantly improving her quality of life and independence.”
In order to further improve our access to rural and remote areas, we have recently expanded our collaboration with the Royal Flying Doctors Service. This has enabled us to provide eye care to additional communities in hard-to-access regions of rural Australia, like the Ouyen region, East Gippsland, and West Wimmera. This programme consists of 3 circuits to each region, with each circuit taking a week to complete.
Our contributions to “Close the Gap” to improve eye health in Indigenous Australians have included a strong commitment to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our approach is culturally appropriate and recognises the importance of self-determination by listening to what communities want. We work to embed eye health in local communities through education and training.
Our key involvement in these partnerships and provision of cultural care have been through:
- Vision 2020 Australia Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Committee
- Koolin Balit Project
- Regional eye health steering committees
- Eye & Ear / VAHS Ophthalmology Service steering committee
- National Provision of Eye Health Equipment and Training Project
- Victorian Aboriginal Eye Health Statewide Committee
- Victorian Vision Initiative steering committee
- Roadmap stakeholder consultation groups
- National Close the Gap for Vision Conference (2018/2019)
An example of the extension of our services includes the provision, as part of a national consortium with the Brien Holden Vision Institute, Centre for Eye Health, Optometry Australia and the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, of eye health retinal camera equipment and training to remote Aboriginal Communities across Australia.
In addition to improving access to eyecare, we are also committed to providing affordable eye care through delivery of subsidised spectacle and visual aid programmes. The Victorian Eyecare Service (VES) and the Aboriginal Spectacles Subsidy Scheme (VASSS) seek to improve access to high quality glasses and other visual aids for people experiencing disadvantage and to Aboriginal people. We aim to demonstrate the impact that visual aid subsidy programmes have in contributing to a holistic model of eyecare, and to showcase best practice, using a culturally appropriate model. In conjunction with our rural partners, we have provided 1181 pairs of glasses through the VASSS over a 6-month period.
More recently we have been exploring ways in which we can use our clinical experience, and research and education capabilities to contribute towards improving eye health outcomes for people experiencing disadvantage globally.
World Optometry Day is a celebration of our vision to achieve world leading eye health outcomes for all. We aim to improve the eye health and well being of communities through innovation, partnership, and leadership in clinical optometry services, research and education.