A study from Curtin University has gleaned a new understanding of blinding eye disease – both in terms of the number of people affected by blindness and the use of the healthcare system by people who are blind.
The Epidemiology of Blinding Eye Disease (EBED) Study is the first comprehensive snapshot of health service utilisation by people who are legally blind, paving the way for better treatment and support services.
The research on blinding eye disease is funded by the Eye Surgery Foundation and was carried out by researchers from Curtin’s Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), consultant ophthalmologists and the Association for the Blind of Western Australia.
According to Julie Crewe, Research Fellow at CHIRI’s Centre for Population Health Research, accurate data on the number of people who are legally blind in WA has previously been very limited
“This is a groundbreaking study. Traditionally, records have been held in voluntary registers based on referrals from general practitioners and specialist ophthalmologists, but the completeness of these registers has been shown to be poor,” Ms Crewe said.
“The EBED Study is the first time that blindness has been assessed and evaluated in terms of health service utilisation within a large, well defined population.”
“Blind people living in the community are dependent on appropriate and timely support services and the first step in providing good healthcare is to understand the number of people currently affected and the trends in service requirements.”
“The results of this study provide the evidence to introduce additional prevention and treatment for blindness, and guide the allocation of resources to better care for those living with blindness in our community.”
Curtin Adjunct Professor Nigel Morlet said the EBED Study demonstrated the scale of the burden of blinding eye disease on the health service.
“We compared the health service utilisation rates of a cohort of people who were legally blind with people with normal sight,” Professor Morlet said.
The study found that around 3,400 people are legally blind in Western Australia, half of whom have never been referred to or visited the Association for the Blind of WA for support and rehabilitation services.
The study found that between 1999 and 2010 there were 9,916 separate attendances at emergency departments by people who were legally blind. Of these, 12 per cent were for heart related problems, 11 per cent involved injuries, wounds or bone fractures and 17 per cent were for injuries caused by burns.
“People who were legally blind were in hospital more often and for longer periods than people with normal vision,” Professor Morlet said.
“Only two per cent of the people who were legally blind had no contact with the emergency or hospital health services during the 11-year study period.
“Almost twice as many individuals who were blind had periods of psychiatric care when compared to people with normal sight.”
Professor Morlet said further studies would access this data to shed further light on how blinding eye disease impacts on WA’s health system and make recommendations for future services.
The research has been published in the prestigious British Journal of Ophthalmology, and was presented at the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) Annual Congress in Canberra in late November.
Julie Crewe, Research Fellow, Centre for Population Health Research, Curtin Innovation Health Research Institute, Curtin University
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