Vision Impairment and Eye Health in Primary Care

Wednesdays 12:00 – 1:00 PM CST

Eye disorders and vision loss are among the costliest, yet most preventable, conditions in the United States, costing $168 billion in direct medical costs in 2019. It is estimated that a full 96% of vision impairment and loss is avoidable. According to global estimates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), loss of vision tends to disproportionately impact older adults, with 77 percent of loss of vision occurring among people 50 and older. Without significant planning and intervention, research suggests that national expenditures could rise to as much as $717 billion by the year 2050, due in large part to the aging of the U.S. population. While vision impairment disproportionately affects the aging population, it affects all age groups, including the pediatric population and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes. The direct and indirect costs of visual impairment and blindness manifest in lost productivity, recurrent hospitalizations, increased falls, reduced capacity to self-manage chronic conditions with medications, loss of independence, reduced quality of life, and heightened morbidity. Across the nation, there is a shortage of eye care providers in community-based settings. In fact, 721 out of 3,006 American counties have no Ophthalmologist or Optometrist. For many low-income, rural, and underserved populations with vision loss, their only feasible option for eye and vision care is their community health center. Unfortunately, few health centers offer integrated eye care services with eye doctors on staff. Notably, in 2019, 29 million people visited community health centers nationwide, but less than 3% of them received eye care services. In contrast, 22.5% received dental and 8.65% received mental health services.

In collaboration with the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness, ECHO-Chicago has developed a virtual 10-week training program aimed at equipping community-based primary care providers with the knowledge and confidence to deliver more inclusive and collaborative healthcare for individuals with vision impairment and blindness. This virtual series will train primary care providers over the course of 10 weeks. Sessions will include short didactic presentations (~20-30 minutes), followed by participant-led case presentations (new and follow-up cases). Through these discussions, the series facilitators and participants draw on their own experience to support each other and share strategies that they have found to be successful in navigating barriers.

Topics for Case-Based Learning and Discussion Include:

  • Overview of Vision Impairment and Eye Health in Primary Health Care
  • Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
  • Diabetes Related Eye Diseases
  • Impact of glaucoma on the eye and vision
  • Vision Screening  and Eye Health in Children
  • Impact of cataracts on the eye
  • Women’s Vision Health
  • Thyroid Eye Disease (TED)
  •  Common Co-Morbid Mental Health Conditions with Vision Impairment
  • Vision Rehabilitation, Assistive Devices, and Community Resources


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Topic Specialist

Debi Sarma, OD

Optometrist at Fenway Health

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