Survey shows rural Albertans need better access to eye care

ByMartha R. Camara

Mar 17, 2022

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The Alberta College of Optometrists is calling on the Government of Alberta to improve access to eye care for rural Albertans.

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“Improving access to optometry in rural Alberta and enabling trained optometrists to treat conditions like glaucoma are both easy and affordable. [ways that] Alberta can strengthen its health care system,” the College said in a statement.

“We know that Albertans who live outside of Edmonton or Calgary have to travel farther and wait longer to access health care services – from daily treatments and surgeries to seeing a specialist. Optometry offers a safe and effective solution to these challenges,” said Dr. Rob Kloepfer, president of the Alberta College of Optometrists.

The COA regulates over 880 optometrists who practice in more than 100 communities across Alberta. Optometrists provide the most extensive, easily accessible and cost-effective eye care services and perform over 80% of comprehensive eye exams in the province.

A recent survey of 754 Albertans commissioned by the COA at One Persuasion found that: 21% of rural residents have to travel more than 50 km to receive eye care, four times farther than Calgarians and 10 times farther than Edmontonians.

The survey also revealed that 63 percent of rural residents agree that their communities should have better access to eye care services than they do today; 88% of Albertans would prefer to receive specialized eye care in their local community and from optometrists; and men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 experience the greatest barriers to accessing services.

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Better access to optometry also reduces wait times throughout the healthcare system, Kloepfer added. “Allowing optometrists to practice to the full extent of their training frees up specialists like ophthalmologists to focus on the most serious conditions,” he said. “More Albertans are getting faster access to better services – everyone wins.”

The CAO is calling on the Government of Alberta to expand its scope of practice to allow optometrists to help more people with limited laser and superficial skin procedures.

“Optometrists have the skills, training and safety protocols in place to treat many more people for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and skin tags, right in their community,” Kloepfer said. “When it comes to eye health, Albertans turn first to their optometrists.

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