Efforts Increasing Access to Early Eye Exams & Prioritizing Eye Health in Preventive Healthcare for Those in Need in the Community
By Frances-Lynn Jones, O.D.
President, Southern Nevada Optometric Society
We often hear the phrase “the eyes are the window to your soul” but in truth, the eyes are a window to your overall health. Our eyes contain fine blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissues – potential issues within these delicate ocular areas often point to the first sign of disease elsewhere in the body. We know that dozens of serious diseases can be detected through a comprehensive eye exam. These diseases include Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, some autoimmune diseases, and certain types of cancers.
Eye care professionals have long understood the important role comprehensive eye examinations play as a means of early disease detection and as part of a quality preventive healthcare plan – especially when started in early childhood. We believe that early access to routine, comprehensive eye exams is a foundational component of a child’s developmental and educational success. More is, and is becoming, known that when undiagnosed, vision issues can have an enormous impact on a child’s social, motor, cognitive and academic achievement.
Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of eye and vision problems in pediatric populations, access to routine eye care is a struggle for many Nevada families, and for that matter, families across the United States. Whether it be cost, physical access to eye care practices or even a lack of knowledge in understanding how to spot potential vision issues in children, all of these reasons create substantial barriers to helping children access they care they need. In addition, because children assume that how they see is “normal”, they are less likely to complain. It is common for children with undetected vision issues to struggle in school and other activities, often feeling isolated or at times, being labeled as having behavioral issues.
As an eye care provider, I know that we can change this paradigm and stigmatization – we can create better access and brighter futures for our area children. With timely diagnosis and treatment, many vision issues in children are correctable and/or treatable.
Recently, the Southern Nevada Optometric Society, as part of the Nevada Optometric Association, partnered with two eye care organizations to help area children receive much-needed access to eyecare in Clark County schools: The Vision Council’s recently launched consumer initiative, Vision Health Alliance, and the not-for-profit organization EyeCare4Kids™, dedicated to providing important eye care services through school-based, mobile clinics to low income, visually impaired children, and their underserved families.
Our mobile vision clinic held at Dr. C. Owen Roundy Elementary School gave dozens of children the opportunity of vision screening, an eye exam and if they need eyeglasses based on the results of those diagnostic tests, they could choose their frame with the eyeglasses ordered and delivered through an optometric lab – all at no cost. The Vision Health Alliance also provided 600 eye care kits for glasses and contact lens emergencies. The kits have been donated and distributed to the EyeCare4Kids provider network across Nevada. By bringing these services directly to our area schools, we are breaking down these critical, access to care barriers.
This is just one example of how the eye care community is helping to address access and equity in healthcare through strategic partnerships and investment, reflecting the Nevada Optometric Association’s mission to champion eye health as an important part of overall health.
We know that when eye health is prioritized and begins at the earliest ages, it sets future generations up for a lifetime of better health. My colleagues and are I are dedicated to educating families about the benefits of prioritizing eye health in their care planning. By partnering with our schools, along with our industry leaders and being present in our communities – no matter how large or small – we are part of the solution to improving healthcare access and equity, creating a brighter future for our children, their families and our communities.