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Tuesday / June 18.
HomeminewsHeart of Australia Tackles Diabetic Eye Disease

Heart of Australia Tackles Diabetic Eye Disease

Heart of Australia – a specialist medical clinic-on-wheels – and its program partner Bayer have visited the Darling Downs townships of Dalby, Goondiwindi and St George to educate community members on human health as well as animal and farming health.

Dr. Rolf Gomes, cardiologist and founder of Heart of Australia said the topics presented at the healthy roadshow – preventing eye disease in people with diabetes and managing allergies – were carefully chosen to make sure they were relevant to people living and working in the Darling Downs.

“Bayer is bringing thought leaders in locally to bring the latest information to country communities. This event is yet another example of their long-term commitment to supporting the health of all Australians,” he said.

Tobias Marchand, Bayer Chairman and Managing Director said, “We are acutely aware of the challenges Australia faces due to its sheer size and how this affects rural Australians, which is why we’re proud to support Heart of Australia, who provide much needed services that would otherwise be out of reach. Importantly these types of community events also keep us informed with what’s happening and what’s important in the communities we support.”

Heart of Australia delivers fortnightly specialist medical investigation and treatment clinics to regional, rural and remote area communities across Queensland


Laura Zimmerman, a Clinical Nurse Specialist and Credentialed Diabetes Educator who lives in Goondwindi, Queensland, spoke to members of her local community. Ms. Zimmerman has experienced the work of Heart of Australia. Her father-in-law elected to see Dr. Gomes about a heart condition rather than leaving work to travel to the nearest cardiologist 220km away. He was immediately referred on to receive lifesaving treatment.

“I later attended an education session for health care professionals and started talking to the Heart of Australia team about how we could work together,” explained Ms. Zimmerman. “Diabetes education was a great opportunity. Despite the fact that people living in regional areas are up to 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes as someone in a major city, and up to 1.8 times1 as likely to be blind, diabetes and diabetic eye disease is not addressed enough.”

In her experience, Ms. Zimmerman said, “health literacy can’t be assumed. Those you would think would be quite literate may be the opposite.

“I worked with a patient with diabetes for three years, and over that time gave him several leaflets to follow up on our education about diabetes. One day he came in sobbing. He said, ‘I don’t know how to read’. That patient was a farmer, from a socio-economic group that is not typically associated with low levels of literacy or health literacy and his case really highlighted for me that we can’t assume that our patients are able to access or understand the information they need to make informed decisions about their healthcare.”

As a consequence, Ms. Zimmerman says she now uses drawings as opposed to words to explain conditions. “I don’t write, I draw pictures, and I provide information to individual patients at a level they can understand.”

At her community presentation, Ms. Zimmerman informed people about the risk factors of diabetic eye disease, why regular eye screening is important and the blinding consequences of late – or lack of – diagnosis. “Annual exams can reduce the risk of blindness by 95 per cent and we have a far greater chance of getting people along to their optometrist or GP if they understand this,” she said. “We encouraged people to talk with a credentialed diabetes educator, their GP or eye care professional and to talk to their family members about the need for eye screening as well.”

Additionally, she said, health professionals in the audience were encouraged about the need to increase the health literacy of individual patients so they could make informed decisions about their eye health.


Heart of Australia delivers fortnightly specialist medical investigation and treatment clinics to regional, rural and remote area communities across Queensland. There are approximately 20 cardiologists regularly involved in the Heart of Australia mobile clinic. The customised Heart of Australia road train – a specialist medical clinicon- wheels – has travelled more than 72,000km since it was launched in October 2014, covering an area of more than 450,000 square kilometres. The purpose-built, self-sufficient trailer brings specialist services to 13 towns in South West Queensland and Central West Queensland, providing two private clinic rooms, a testing room and a reception area. It is wheelchair accessible and fully-air-conditioned.


1. Australian Government. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Rural health. Available at: www.aihw.gov.au/australiashealth/ 2016/population-groups/#t12 (Accessed July 2017)