A newcomer to our community could be forgiven for thinking that the only health care services offered in Ontario are cataract surgery, cardiac procedures, cancer surgery, hip and knee replacements, and MRI and CT exams.
That’s because the bulk of the discussion surrounding health care revolves around wait times for these five services.
Our politicians have embraced the concept of wait time management as a means to ensure our overburdened health care system is able to respond effectively and efficiently to patient needs.
It’s hard to disagree with this kind of investment in life-altering and life-saving procedures, but as wait times for these services continue to decrease, it’s time for the government to take a second look at their investment in preventive eye care.
As an optometrist in Fort Frances, I provide community-based eye care services every day. Eye examinations provided by an optometrist or physician are critical in the early detection of sight-threatening conditions including cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), ocular complications resulting from diabetes, and glaucoma.
Each year, Ontarians rely on their optometrists to preserve their sight by diagnosing and managing these visual conditions, and referring them for more specialized services as needed.
While our government’s efforts focus on acute care services like cataract surgery, what becomes of the patient who presents to my office with glaucoma or AMD?
These chronic conditions are debilitating and are becoming increasingly common as the population ages.
While the government’s commitment to reducing cataract wait times is laudable, whether a patient waits eight weeks or 16 weeks for their surgery has little, if any, impact upon the success of the outcome.
However, each and every day that a patient with glaucoma is denied treatment, irreversible and preventable vision loss results.
As Ontario’s 387 ophthalmologists are increasingly busy performing cataract surgeries, it should not come as a surprise that optometrists are called upon to provide complex care to those living with chronic conditions which pose a substantial risk for vision loss.
Given population demographics, this growing reliance on optometric services will only increase.
In Fort Frances and the surrounding area, 13.1 percent of the population is over the age of 65. In the next five years, the population of Canadian seniors will grow by more than 14 percent.
What plans does the government have to address the inevitable proliferation of chronic eye disease in our community?
My colleagues and I are locally available and able to contribute to a solution that ensures the provincial government’s eye care funding is utilized in an efficient and cost-effective manner to meet the needs of patients in our community, and throughout Ontario.
Ultimately, the solution to these issues is found in recognizing and valuing the role primary eye care professionals play in achieving the government’s key eye health priorities.
It means ensuring the funding provided to accomplish these objectives is directed to preventive care as well as to acute care services. It means ensuring we do not overlook one pressing eye health condition for the sake of another.
As the government contemplates budgetary decisions for the upcoming fiscal year, please consider pressing your MPP to ensure the minister of Health and Long-Term Care gives primary eye care the attention it desperately needs.
One day, your vision—or that of a loved one—may depend upon it.
Dr. Bruce Lidkea
Fort Frances, Ont.