Improved Vision Care is in Sight

Posted August 11, 2016 by Josh Grant

Young Asian Girl Getting Eye Exam
Early detection could be the key to treating childhood vision problems.
Healthcare providers, government agencies and community organizations are seeing a new way to change pediatric vision care. Traditionally, vision systems are highly clinical and focus on treating healthcare concerns, such as injuries, diseases and poor eyesight. While that approach will always be necessary to some degree, there’s been a growing emphasis on preventative services.

As with many healthcare issues, vision problems can develop over time and become much more difficult to treat when they’re not addressed early on, or at all. In some cases, ages 8 and 9 are among the latest that issues respond to treatment.

“Many vision conditions need early intervention, identification and treatment because they’re developmental problems. The brain develops vision,” says Jean Ramsey, MD, MPH, associate professor of Ophthalmology and Pediatrics and vice chair of the Advisory Committee for the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health at Prevent Blindness (NCCVEH). “Some older children may respond well to treatment, but we need to identify problems early and treat them. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the preschool population.”

Currently, there are concerns that poor vision may adversely affect how children learn and develop specific skills. For example, some studies have indicated that uncorrected vision can negatively affect early literacyExternal Link. However, these outcomes can be prevented and improved through early detection that leads to the appropriate treatments.

Seeing Change at Every Level
Along with the Maternal & Child Health Bureau and NICHQ, the NCCVEH is running the Improving Children’s Vision: Systems, Stakeholders & Support program to create standards for the diagnosis and detection of vision problems in children under five, which would lead to more effective treatments being performed earlier. The ultimate goal is to spread the standards on a national scale.

“Practice standards and services vary by state, so children are receiving different levels of treatment and services,” says Laura Anderko, RN, PhD, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment and chair of the Advisory Committee for the NCCVEH. “A uniform set of national standards and approaches across all 50 states would improve children’s vision and eye health through increased access to screening by trained personnel, diagnostic exams and treatment when necessary.” 

To reach that national scale, states need to look inwardly first, starting with how they can improve their own systems. This project is a learning collaborative, which will allow the teams from Arizona, Ohio and Wyoming to identify challenges in their current systems and work together on creating strategies and solutions to better serve children.

Ramsey pointed out that in other initiatives, some states engage opticians, public health professionals and even experts from other fields to see what’s proven effective.

“In Massachusetts, we engaged representatives from the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Program. The system they developed is all-encompassing and has excellent follow-up, and that’s the type of model we need for vision care,” says Ramsey.

And all of those collaborators need to make sure that their efforts ultimately make a positive difference at the local level, which means patients and families need to be engaged at every stage. Both Anderko and Ramsey emphasized the importance of engaging parents while analyzing vision care, especially given that they play a critical role in navigating current systems and how much of an impact they can have on early identification of vision problems.

While every child and family have different vision needs and face their own barriers, their involvement in public health efforts ensures that all gaps in care can be addressed. In the end, seeing things from a family’s perspective will help healthcare providers improve how they address vision care.

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