Eye Health Care Getting Clearer and Clearer

DECEMBER 01, 2008
Alicia Rybovic, Associate Editor

In-store walk-in clinics are changing the way that patients receive health care. Convenient care clinics, based in retail stores with adjacent pharmacy services, have flourished recently due to the demand for affordable, accessible health care. These clinics benefit both patients and the health care system by providing accessibility for patients and lessening the burden on physicians and emergency departments; affordability (a national study reports that retail-based clinics are 30%-80% less expensive than other providers); quality care from credentialed health care providers; and continuity of care (many clinics will forward electronic or paper records of the patient's visit to his/her primary care provider if one has been established).

In addition to providing care related to common ailments, health screenings, vaccinations, and preventive care, these clinics offer valuable optometry services. Data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found that 12.7% of all patients who visited a retail clinic (158,750 individuals) between 2002 and 2005 received care for otitis media or otitis externa; 4.6% of all patients (57,500 individuals) had conjunctivitis. Patients are increasingly realizing that they may receive treatment and preventive services for many common health concerns—including eye care and regular eye checkups—from convenient care clinics.

Regular Eye Checkups for All

It is important for all individuals, from children to senior citizens, to maintain proper eye health. One in 4 children may have a vision problem, which may impact their performance in school, and 1 in 3 seniors may have a vision problem, such as cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration, according to the Vision Council of America. These conditions, if left untreated, can lead to more severe complications in the future. For example, glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness, affects approximately 2.2 million Americans aged 40 or older, but an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million individuals do not know that they have the disease. Diagnosis and proper treatment of this condition are dependent on regular eye exams.

Eye care clinics have grown in recent years; Wal-Mart, for example, has greatly expanded its optometry services division since opening its first vision center in Plainfield, Indiana, in 1990. Prior to his passing in 1992, Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, saw a need in the marketplace to provide patients with affordable, convenient, quality eye care.

Today, independent and Wal-Mart?employed optometrists examine the internal and external structures of the eye to diagnose eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal disorders; systemic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes; and vision conditions like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia. The Wal-Mart/Sam's Club Optical Division sees more than 6 million patients each year in nearly 3000 locations in 47 states. Wal-Mart Vision Center and Sam's Club Optical are the second leading provider of optical goods (eyeglasses and contact lenses) in the United States.

Through its Optical Division, Wal-Mart hopes to educate America on the importance of an annual preventive eye health exam. Education on this topic may be the key to improving eye health across the United States. According to a recent American Optometric Association survey, almost 30% of US adults indicated that they do not get their eyes checked by an eye doctor or an eye care specialist at least every 2 years.

"The important thing about eye care is prevention. There are many diseases that are asymptomatic, so we promote visiting your optometrist every year," explained Priti Patel, OD, director of professional relations of Optical Health & Wellness at Wal-Mart. She added, "We can preserve someone's vision and check for the normal health of the eyes—there is more to it than glasses and contacts." Wal-Mart pharmacists also benefit from having on-site optometrists—when presented with eye health questions, they can simply refer patients to the optometry services area.

Convenient Access

Optometry services provided at retail clinics are sure to grow in the coming years, thanks to the convenience, affordability, and quality of care provided. These clinics make it simple for patients who are having their prescription filled or are picking up an OTC medicine also to see a certified optometrist for an eye-related problem or regular checkup. Regular eye checkups are crucial to maintaining proper eye health and diagnosing and treating many conditions, and retail clinics are in a prime position to provide these services to a wide range of patients.