Research demonstrates success of community eye care schemes

Optometric enhanced eye care services demonstrate clinical effectiveness and are well received by patients and other stakeholders

Two research papers arising from the College of Optometrists Enhanced Scheme Evaluation Project (ESEP) and published this month, show that optometrists involved in community schemes are able to provide cataract, glaucoma and primary eye care services to patients safely and effectively.  Such schemes can also result in cost savings and reduce the number of hospital eye service (HES) appointments.

The paper, ‘Evaluation of a minor eye conditions scheme delivered by community optometrists’ was published in BMJ Open and involved an in-depth analysis of the introduction of a Minor Eye Conditions Scheme (MECS) in south-east London. MECS was clinical effective and associated with high patient satisfaction. Comparisons with a neighbouring area, without a similar community eye service scheme, found a drop of 26.8 per ecent in first attendance referrals to hospital ophthalmology departments by GPs. The scheme represents a successful collaboration between commissioners, local HES units and primary healthcare providers.

The other ESEP research paper, the first systematic review of the evidence on the effectiveness of these schemes, was published in the College’s international research journal Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics (OPO), in September 2016. It found that enhanced schemes reduce unnecessary referrals for suspected glaucoma in secondary care, and that UK optometrists are able to work safely in defined areas to maintain or improve the quality of outcomes for patients.

Mike Bowen, director of research at the College of Optometrists said; “We are very proud to be in a position to share this research, which is part of the College’s Enhanced Scheme Evaluation Project and provides some of the most thorough evidence yet for the viability, effectiveness and potential cost-savings of these schemes. A number of MECS schemes have been launched across the UK and have demonstrated clinical safety, reduced HES referrals, high patient satisfaction and GP trust. However, there is limited evidence on the cost-effectiveness of such schemes and this important research will contribute to this body of evidence, Hopefully, these findings will encourage commissioners to replicate these services in appropriate parts of the country, taking advantage of the likely costs savings and reducing the pressure being experienced by often overwhelmed HES.”

The College’s ESEP will be providing further, detailed evidence about the economics of these schemes, as well as the views of optometrists, ophthalmologists, patients and other stakeholders about their operation and an in-depth case study of a Glaucoma Referral Refinement Scheme in Manchester.