According to the American Optometric Association’s manual Optometric Care of Nursing Home Residents, “Virtually all nursing home residents will have at least one ocular pathology, and almost half will have two or more ocular pathological conditions.” Unfortunately, they also found that only 12.5% of facilities in the US provide in-house eye care. That means very few nursing home residents receive the eye care they need, even when they have health insurance.
Fortunately, enterprising optometrists are solving this problem by using mobile optometry equipment. These doctors provide onsite comprehensive exams or problem-oriented visits to patients in nursing homes. These facilities are required by law to help residents get eye care. Taking residents off site for these services is challenging and costly. Many administrators understand the benefits of doctors coming to them. Most nursing homes lack eye care services, so partnering with a mobile service can give a facility a marketing advantage.
Additionally, creating a mobile practice is a chance to do real good. Treating visual impairments can resolve problems with balance, falls and injuries such as fractures, cuts and scrapes or even the need for hospitalization. Improved vision has also been shown to reduce disruptive behavior and depression, delay the onset of dementia. Vision care helps patients enjoy greater quality of life, even when they’re in hospice for their final days.
One of the barriers to a mobile practice has been the cumbersome devices that need to move from facility to facility. Advances have made today’s mobile optometry equipment not only more sophisticated but also much smaller and lighter. Many nursing homes assign spaces like a dining room or administrative offices for examinations, and new ultraportable equipment lets practitioners create an exam lane anywhere. Even better, these handheld autorefractors make it easy to provide quality service to patients in wheelchairs and bed-bound individuals.
Another obstacle has been the expense of purchasing the needed mobile optometry equipment, especially for optometrists just beginning their practice. Fortunately, devices are now available that cost a fraction of traditional equipment such as desktop aberrometers. Also, both practicing optometrists and recent graduates can spread the expense over a period of time via financing plans rather than paying all at once.
Mobile optometry equipment expands horizons of both optometrists and nursing home residents. With the United States’ aging population creating an increasing need for nursing home care, mobile optometry services will be more in demand than ever. Best of all, it holds the promise of an extremely satisfying career spent helping people enjoy their final years.
Dr. Doug Streifel uses the SVOne in his mobile nursing practice. Read more in his In Focus profile.