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The Impact of Photoscreening Devices on Pediatric Vision Care and the Underlying Disparities

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Ethan Sulliva
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The Impact of Photoscreening Devices on Pediatric Vision Care and the Underlying Disparities

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With the advent of technology, the healthcare sector has seen a remarkable transformation. One of the key breakthroughs is the use of photoscreening devices in vision care for children. A recent retrospective cohort study has found a significant increase in vision screening among three-year-old children within a large health system, thanks to the availability of photoscreening devices. This article delves into this study and the various elements it explored, from the disparities in screening rates to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vision care.

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The Rise in Vision Screening Rates

Based on the electronic health record data from 2015-2017 and 2018-2022, the study found that vision screening rates surged from a mere 5.7% in 2015 to an impressive 72.1% in 2022. This increase is attributed to the widespread use of photoscreeners in pediatrician offices of a multispecialty group practice in Northern California. Photoscreeners have proven to be an effective tool for screening, referral, and diagnosis of amblyopia among children.

Discrepancies in Screening Rates

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Despite the significant rise in screening rates, the study revealed an underlying issue: disparities in screening and referral rates. The data showed that Asian, Black, and Hispanic patients were less likely to be screened, yet they were more likely to be referred and diagnosed. This highlights the importance of addressing the root factors in healthcare disparities. It is crucial to understand that increased access to screening tools does not necessarily equate to equity in pediatric ophthalmic care.

Significance of Early Vision Screening

Pediatric low vision, defined as irreversible vision loss or permanent visual impairment in a person younger than 21 years old, can be due to various factors such as ocular structural abnormalities, ocular pathology, genetic or systemic conditions, and cerebral visual impairment. Early vision screening is paramount in detecting such conditions. Signs of low vision in children include delayed visual development milestones, decreased sensitivity to bright lights, and symptoms of blurry vision, eye strain, or headaches. Therefore, children should be referred for low vision assessment as early as possible to identify the need for interventions or support services.

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The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The study also emphasized the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the intervention period. As healthcare facilities across the globe were overwhelmed by the pandemic, regular screenings and other non-emergency services were significantly impacted. In such a scenario, the potential cost-benefit ratio of screening tools like photoscreeners came to the fore, offering a feasible solution for vision screening during challenging times.

Statewide Initiatives for Vision Screening

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In addition to individual health systems, statewide initiatives also play a crucial role in promoting early vision screening. For instance, the Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Screening (StEPS) program offers free eye tests for four-year-olds to identify vision problems early. Promoting such programs can significantly improve the early detection and treatment of vision problems, leading to better outcomes in learning at school.

Conclusion

The study's findings underscore the importance of photoscreening devices in increasing the rate of vision screening among children. However, it also illuminates the disparities that persist in healthcare, emphasizing the need for further efforts to ensure equity in pediatric ophthalmic care. In the face of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of technology in healthcare, like photoscreening devices, has proven to be a game-changer, offering viable solutions for continued care.

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