The Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria (RFDS Victoria) and the Australian College of Optometry (ACO) are celebrating ten years of the Flying Doctor Mobile Eye Care service. The partnership between the renowned medical service and the public health eye care organisation delivers comprehensive optometry services to remote and rural communities throughout Victoria, which would otherwise face significant barriers to care.
For many living in remote communities without fixed services, the time and cost of travelling hundreds of kilometers for optometry care is challenging. Despite the fact that more than 90% of vision impairment is preventable or treatable, missing regular eye health checks or treatment is too often a reality of rural living, and risks more serious future health concerns. Established by RFDS Victoria, the Mobile Eye Care service is an integral element in their mission to deliver preventative care to rural communities.
The mobile service liaises with community nurses to organise an optometrist visit, typically visiting two communities in a five-day trip. These consultations provide bulk-billed eye exams, referrals for advanced care and glasses, which are prepared at the ACO’s dispensing lab and dispatched by post. The cost of glasses is covered by the Victorian Eyecare Scheme (VES) with a modest contribution from the patient.
Over the decade-long partnership, the mobile service is estimated to have saved patients 5,032 hours of travel time. In a recent survey, 100% of patients reported that the service made it easier for them to access care and 90% reported they received care at no cost or at a more affordable cost.
“There is often an emphasis on hospital care and proximity to hospitals when discussing rural healthcare. The Flying Doctor is known for taking people to hospital, but we also know the importance of keeping people out of hospital by providing services that people can access in their own community; that’s where our primary health services step in,” said Dr Melanie Trivett, RFDS General Manager of Health.
She continued, “When we began development of rural services, eye care was immediately identified as a much-needed service and it was clear that the Australian College of Optometry was the right partner for this program. The ACO’s experience with their own diverse outreach programs meant they were uniquely positioned to support the challenges off-site remote consultations while providing uncompromising, comprehensive care.”
With 50 years of public health eye care experience, the ACO supports underserved Victorians to access quality, affordable eye care through its fixed clinics and outreach programs. General Manager of Outreach and Rural VES, Dr Josephine Li believes the Mobile Eye Care service is a lifeline for remote communities.
“For any patient, good eye health is closely linked to quality of life and independence, but this is amplified for residents of rural communities who heavily rely on driving. We know adults with vision impairment often have lower rates of workforce participation and it directly contributes to social isolation in older adults.”
One bush nurse shared, “We’ve got two gentlemen in town who have truck licenses to transport cattle. They need regular eye checks with VicRoads… For them, [the Mobile Eye Care service] is a vital service.”
Josephine continued, “Partnering with the RFDS to deliver our shared mission of equitable care has been hugely rewarding. The accessible intervention provided by this program including affordable glasses, appropriate treatment and pathways to advanced ophthalmology care, has a significant impact on eye health outcomes.”