Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness

The following is the transcript for the Vision Rehab Podcast, Diabetes and Vision Loss.

Take a moment to think about this from the American Diabetes Association—in the last 24 hours in America, 4110 people were diagnosed with diabetes; 356 limb amputations were performed due to diabetes; and 159 patients were diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure caused by diabetes. Nearly 1 in 10 people in America has diabetes—34 million.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), 40%-45% of people with diabetes have some stage of Diabetic Retinopathy, just one of several eye diseases caused by diabetes.  Diabetic retinopathy is currently the leading cause of vision loss among working age adults.  In addition to the personal impact of diabetes, and the health issues it can cause—vision loss, limb amputation, and kidney failure, the ADA estimates that $1 out of every $7 in the US is spent on diabetes and its complications.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month and a perfect time to ask ophthalmologists, diabetes educators, and other health professionals what more can be done about this healthcare crisis?  Why, for example, do professionals, like a vision rehabilitation therapist (VRT), remain underutilized in reducing the personal and social costs of this epidemic? We know from these numbers that nearly half of those with diabetes, or 15 million people are experiencing some stages of eye disease which is affecting their vision and may impact both their jobs and their ability to manage their diabetes successfully.

Although the vision rehabilitation therapist is not a medical professional, rather a social services professional, they are the one professional whose Master’s level academic training and national certification specifically includes diabetes management with a vision impairment– medication management, including insulin, blood glucose measurement, food preparation, and exercise.

Not only does the certified VRT have a greater level of training for their clients with diabetes and low vision, they are often available to consumers through state or community agencies at no out-of-pocket cost, or on a sliding scale. That means they cost less to the patient, in most cases, than an Occupational Therapist or other medical professional, who often has far less training for individuals with a vision impairment or blindness.

As a certified VRT I worked with many clients with diabetes, and not one was referred through a doctor for diabetes management. In each case, the referred was made for other reasons and the initial assessment revealed the client had difficulty measuring or labeling insulin, testing blood  glucose, was prescribed equipment they couldn’t read, needed magnification or technology for reading food labels, medication, and healthy recipes, and more. Because the VRT is not a medical professional they’re unable to bill Medicare or private insurance for these services. As a result, in many cases the doctor makes a referral instead to a medical professional within their practice who can bill insurance but often has far less knowledge and experience working with the visually impaired client or patient.

Here’s a reminder this November for the medical professionals working with patients who have diabetes and a vision loss—the certified vision rehab therapist or CVRT, often has more training and experience in this area than virtually any other professional, medical or otherwise. A referral to a vision rehab therapist may lead to a better outcome with diabetes management for patients with a vision impairment. If you have diabetes and a vision loss, keep in mind that your doctor may not give you a referral for a vision rehabilitation therapist, but you can make the referral yourself. Contact your local or state agency serving the visually impaired or blind using the VisionAware Directory of Services and ask to work with a certified VRT. They will walk you through the process of getting connected to services.

Be sure to check out the VisionAware blog post for Diabetes Awareness Month.

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