The Diabetes Epidemic: How ODs Can Make a Real Difference

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One of the most rewarding aspects of our profession is the ability to catch signs of chronic conditions early on, which can be critical to helping prevent severe outcomes for our patients. This is especially true in the fight against diabetes. It’s no secret the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise, but what might be surprising is of the 37.3 million adults in the U.S. with diabetes, 8.5 million are undiagnosed.1 As optometrists, we are in a unique position to detect and prevent eye disease and vision loss caused by diabetes, even for those who do not yet know they have diabetes, as more people are diagnosed every year.

In my practice, hardly a day goes by that I don’t see someone with diabetes and on numerous occasions, I have also detected signs of diabetes during a routine eye exam. These are some of my favorite patient stories because they demonstrate the unique and critical role Doctors of Optometry have in helping manage the epidemic diabetes has become. Realizing this impact inspired me more than 15 years ago to focus on diabetes-related eye care and become more involved in educating my patients and other eye care professionals about the importance of diabetes-related eye care services. 

Early diabetes detection is crucial, and as research and technology quickly advance, the care we provide for patients with diabetes or diabetic retinopathy today might be different than what it was even a year ago. So now more than ever, it is imperative for optometric practices to stay current on best practices for caring for patients living with or at risk for diabetes. Throughout 2022, I partnered with VSP Premier Academy360 to host virtual diabetes education events for doctors and office staff. These events provided education on the latest diabetes-related findings so participants could immediately implement these learnings in their practice. 

If their practice has retinal imaging equipment, attendees of these events received the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Badge to display on their VSP Find a Doctor Directory, making it easier for patients to identify practices that have taken extra steps to care for people with diabetes or prediabetes. The required education to receive the badge is beneficial to practices, as we should already be doing our due diligence to ensure we’re educated on diabetes-related eye care. There’s no downside to putting forth a little bit of effort to receive this badge – it's well worth it to show your patients you are keeping the full picture of their overall health top of mind. 

This type of education really reinforces the value of ODs as an integral part of a patient’s comprehensive healthcare team, and I appreciate the partnership VSP has with the ADA to highlight this to patients on the VSP Find a Doctor Directory. This level of support is one reason my practice participates in the VSP Vision Premier Program; The added visibility of the Premier Program indicator and ADA Badge on shows our commitment to providing the best possible care for our patients. 

Taking the next step to offering specialized patient care opens the conversation about diabetes and its impact on vision and overall health year-round. “As eye see it,” just one eye exam can uncover unknown health conditions early on, create better health outcomes, and ultimately make a huge difference in patients’ lives.

Read my article in Modern Healthcare for more information about how eye care professionals can leverage the Eye Care Interprofessional Communication Protocol to help facilitate the exchange of information among all appropriate health care professionals to improve outcomes and preserve vision in people with diabetes.

1 American Diabetes Association, July 2022.    

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