Dr. April Maa is making screening for eye care much easier and more accessible for Veterans, especially Veterans living in rural areas.
Working with the Atlanta VA Eye Clinic, she developed an eye-screening program called Technology-based Eye Care Services (TECS).
Pictured above: A specialized camera (left) and machine to check vision and eyeglasses (right) help to provide screening eye care at a TECS site in Blairsville, GA.
TECS found possible vision-threatening disease in nearly one in three patients.
This is a valuable advancement because Veterans are at high risk for eye disease. Access to eye care is challenging within the VA network of hospitals and clinics because it is VA’s third busiest outpatient clinical service.
Rural veterans face many more barriers to accessing eye care because of distance, cost to travel, and difficulty finding care in the community as many live in medically underserved areas.
And rural Veterans may be diagnosed in later stages of eye disease more often than their non-rural counterparts due to lack of access to specialty care
Veterans are at higher risk of eye disease than the average U.S. person. The most common eye problems Veterans get are cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and damage to the eyes from diabetes.
Streamlining the process
TECS is being used at VA facilities across the country.
After a Veteran makes an appointment, they go to their local Community-Based Outpatient Clinic where an eye technician performs the testing.
With specially trained ophthalmology technicians at the Veterans primary care clinic, TECS uses state of the art eye equipment to perform a high-quality screening eye exam.
The images are transmitted through the VA system to a doctor who reads images and prescribes the glasses which are mailed to the Veteran’s home from the optical contractor.
With TECS, VA can now use technology to help triage patients into levels of need (basic, intermediate, advanced), tailoring the patient care experience to the appropriate provider while optimizing resources.
TECS quality data showed that the program improved the ability of patients to get screening appointments and mitigated the distance traveled by Veterans and the time they spent trying to get eye care.
While the program is not meant to replace an in-person eye exam, TECS also helped find possible vision-threatening disease in nearly one in three patients who were checked. The program is now being spread to other VA hospitals across the country with the continued goal of preventing blindness.
Maa is an Associate Professor at Emory University School of Medicine in the Department of Ophthalmology. She attended medical school at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and joined Emory and the Atlanta VA in 2008 where she is a practicing clinician and clinical researcher.
Dr. Maa has received several accolades for her work in telemedicine at VA including the 2017 Mark Wolcott Award for Excellence in Clinical Care Leadership.