Dr Angus Turner with the Lions Outback Vision Van
By Ashleigh McMillan
The Lions Outback Vision Van has begun its 24,000 kilometre journey across Western Australia.
Since being launched in Perth on 19 March, it has visited Kalgoorlie, Leonora and Wiluna.
The mobile eye clinic will stop in 15 locations across the state, providing remote communities with technology that has been previously inaccessible for them, such as advanced OCT and fluorescein angiography. The van will stay in each location for up to two weeks.
The McCusker director of Lions Outback Vision, Dr Angus Turner, said that while equipment for clinics had not been up to scratch in outreach areas for some time, he had been hesitant to build the van until relationships with rural communities were in place.
‘I wanted to avoid building something large until we had a really good network of outreach visits already,’ he said. ‘So we needed to work closely with the communities to ensure that we had a trusting and regular service prior to discussing bringing fancy equipment.’
With the capacity to treat 200 patients a week, the van is staffed with eye-health professionals including visiting optometrists and ophthalmologists.
‘Collaborative care is essential in regions where workforce supply is limited. We all have training in various aspects of eye health and it makes sense to utilise our skills for those specific areas,’ Dr Turner said.
The project is being funded by a $5.1 million investment from the Western Australian Government, Lotterywest and the Lions Eye Institute. The Australian Government provided $565,000 in funding for specialist equipment.
The latest eye-care technology is housed in the van, including OCT and angiography, wide-field photography, capabilities for multi-spot and micro-pulse lasers, and glaucoma assessments such as visual fields. There is also an on-board treatment room for minor procedures and injections.
The eye care co-ordinator for the Lions Eye Institute, Stephen Copeland, said the van’s equipment would allow for a range of services to be provided to Western Australia’s rural communities.
‘The digital imaging and diagnostic equipment is what you might find in a city practice or a medical retinal specialist practice, particularly with those angiogram capabilities,’ he said. ‘But there are going to be some minor procedures as well, so there will be some excisions for chalazion lids and diabetic laser treatments.’
The van will return to Peth twice a year for maintenance and equipment calibration, particularly during Western Australia’s wet season when access to the northern parts of the state would be more difficult.
Mr Copeland said fitting the technology in the van and ensuring it worked correctly created a problem logistically.
‘It’s a tricky feat because all of that stuff requires calibration and is sensitive to movement. Everything needs to be locked down because it’s equipment that isn’t really designed to be moved around, so that’s been a challenge for the technicians,’ he said.
Lions Eye Institute reports that the rate of blindness among Indigenous Australians is six times higher than in non-Indigenous Australians. Thirty-five per cent of Indigenous Australians have reportedly never had an eye examination.
Dr Turner said every sector of health care had its own challenges with reaching disadvantaged and rural communities.
‘We’re just really keen to address that gap and ensure that patients are receiving adequate access to the best possible treatment,’ he said.
Rural Health West, in partnership with Lions Outback Vision and Optometry Australia is running the Ophthalmology 101 Series in Albany, WA. The six 1.5 hour sessions will expand practitioners’ knowledge of eye health, eye conditions and tele-ophthalmology, and are being presented by Dr Angus Turner.
The vision van under construction