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Thursday / June 20.
HomeminewsGlaucoma Australia Patient Support Delivers Results

Glaucoma Australia Patient Support Delivers Results

With Australia facing an economic hit of AU$4.3 billion by 2025, due to the impact of glaucoma, Glaucoma Australia is urging eye care professionals to do as much as possible to identify suspects early and support patients long term.

Richard Wylie, CEO of Glaucoma Australia, said aside from promoting the need for regular eye health checks, one of the best ways to reduce the financial and social impacts of glaucoma is to enrol patients in the organisation’s Patient Support Program.

The report revealed the cost of early intervention in glaucoma is “a drop in the ocean” when compared with the significant long-term burden

A recent report, authored by economic consulting firm Evaluate, stated that 85% of patients supported by the program were compliant with their eye drops compared with only 50% of patients six months after diagnosis who did not access this support, and less than 37% of patients who are compliant three years after their diagnosis.

Attendance at recommended eye health appointments was also much higher for patients supported by Glaucoma Australia at 91%, compared with only 14% generally.1

“The major focus has to be on early diagnosis and supporting patients to stick with their treatment regimen long term, because there is no way to reverse the vision loss caused by glaucoma,” said Mr Wylie.

“We can slow it down, but we cannot ‘cure’ it.”

Drop in the Ocean

The report revealed the cost of early intervention in glaucoma is “a drop in the ocean” when compared with the significant long-term burden premature blindness places on the health system and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

It is estimated that nearly 300,000 Australians have glaucoma but only 50% are diagnosed. The most prevalent type of glaucoma is primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) and the National Health and Medical Research Council estimates that the average time for a person with POAG to progress to blindness without treatment is 23 years and, with treatment, 35 years.

Managing POAG cost the health system $355 million in 2005 and this is estimated to increase to $784 million in 2025, the report said.

It said total costs of glaucoma, including health system costs, indirect costs, and costs or loss of wellbeing, are expected to increase from $1.9 billion to $4.3 billion over the same period, largely due to increasing prevalence due to Australia’s ageing population.

The principal costs include direct medical costs, costs associated with aids and compensation for low vision, rehabilitation services, paid caregiving, and lost income. These costs increase as glaucoma worsens, highlighting the need for early disease detection and vigilance with management.

Mr Wylie said this is where the Patient Support Program, delivered at no cost to the patient or the health system, can make a significant difference.

The program helps those diagnosed with glaucoma to better understand their disease and make informed decisions to maintain their quality of life. Patients receive one-on-one emotional support after receiving a glaucoma diagnosis and throughout their journey are supported with automated email and SMS education, personalised phone calls, support lines and groups, and online resources.

Despite its positive impact, and low cost of $150 per patient per year, the program is accessed by just 1% of new glaucoma patients.

To expand its reach, Mr Wylie said eye care professionals need to refer more patients to Glaucoma Australia, but he also said “modest public investment” is needed to expand its resources. Unlike many not-for-profit organisations, he said Glaucoma Australia operates without government funding.

“With demand growing rapidly at the rate of up to 300 new patients a month seeking our help, we now need to ask for support from Canberra,” Mr Wylie said.

“Our argument is that the more people we get into the program, the better the outcome for patients, and the greater the savings to government will be. Evaluate’s survey provides the evidence to support this argument. In fact their findings on potential savings blew us away,” Mr Wylie told mivision.

Armed with the costed evidence, Mr Wylie is lobbying the federal Government in the hope that it will provide the funding to expand the Patient Support Program.

“You don’t have to look far to find Members who have first-hand experience with glaucoma, so there is a deep understanding of the impact of this disease. I’m getting positive feedback from those I approach; they think it makes perfect economic sense to preserve sight and for Glaucoma Australia’s Patient Support Program to be an extension of the care provided by GPs. However, the Government is facing cost pressures, so it’s going to be an ongoing conversation.

“We urge the federal Government to make this commitment so that no one needs to become another victim of the ‘silent thief of sight’.

“There is such an exciting opportunity to make a big difference if we identify people early, and if we support them properly, we can get superior health outcomes, and save the health budgets billions.”

Reference
1. Furnival, A., and McGovern, C., Better supporting patients through their glaucoma journey. A report commissioned by Glaucoma Australia, 28 March 2023.