Department Outreach Initiatives

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The Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology have made community outreach a priority.

Department of Ophthalmology

When the Department of Ophthalmology asked about barriers to eye care at a recent vision screening event, 76 percent of attendees cited one or more obstacles to seeing an eye doctor. The most common were cost and insurance barriers.

“Delivering eye care to the community is central to our purpose in the Department of Ophthalmology,” said Chair José-Alain Sahel, MD, and Andrew Williams, MD.  “We are taking several exciting initiatives to lead community outreach and expand access to vision care.”

  • In 2021, a full-time patient navigator was hired to address barriers to care head-on by serving as a liaison between patients in need, the healthcare system, and the community. The Department is one of the few in the country to have a patient navigator dedicated to eye patients.
  • The Department continues to reach out to community members who may not yet be patients through the Guerrilla Eye Service, which delivers mobile comprehensive eye care in the greater Pittsburgh community.
  • In 2021, the Department collaborated with dental services to provide free vision screening at Mission of Mercy with six exam lanes, an optician station, and an area with advanced ophthalmic imaging and examination tools. Over 250 patients were examined, almost all of whom were provided with free eyeglasses. The number of exam lanes will be almost doubled at the August Mission of Mercy event.
  • The Department has partnered with Vision to Learn, a mobile outreach program that provides glasses to school-age children. The collaboration brought Vision to Learn equipment and expertise to Mission of Mercy to provide eyecare to young attendees at the event. The Department plans to work with Vision to Learn to build on its school networks to provide vision services for the family members of school-age children.

Improving access to care also means becoming leaders in academic research in this area. “We believe that a deeper understanding of eye care disparities and potential interventions will facilitate success of future programs,” Drs. Sahel and Williams said.

As an example, Dr. Williams leads several research initiatives to understand loss to follow up in glaucoma care and potential interventions to improve appointment attendance. In support of this work, he has received funding from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Research to Prevent Blindness to investigate loss to follow up and lapses in glaucoma care on a large scale using a national sample of over one million glaucoma patients. Identifying risk factors and characteristics associated with loss to follow up could help to inform future interventions to maintain care for this chronic eye disease.

Dr. Williams is also investigating initiatives to help patients maintain regular eye care. Funded by the American Glaucoma Society, he and his colleagues are investigating the feasibility of contacting patients who miss an appointment and offering individualized consultation with the Department’s patient navigator for help in maintaining their care.

Department of Otolaryngology

“The Department of Otolaryngology is committed to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do,” said Department Chair Jonas T. Johnson, MD, who listed the projects currently underway.

  • The oldest effort is with the Birmingham free clinic, where residents and faculty physicians provide clinical services. UPMC recently agreed to provide free diagnostic and surgical services to patients found to require intervention.
  • Under the leadership of Melonie Nance, MD, a team of medical students has launched several studies aimed at better understanding how to address the needs of the underserved community. The results of one such study was recently presented at a national meeting.
  • Beginning in June 2022, five residents in UPMC Otolaryngology’s third-year class will begin a Global Medicine experience in Cape Town, South Africa, going sequentially for 10 weeks each.
  • The Department will participate with Mission of Mercy in August 2022 to provide free hearing care. Catherine Palmer, PhD, Chief of Audiology, and Philip Perez, MD, an otologist, are leading the effort.

The Eye & Ear Foundation has worked with UPMC to establish institutional accounts used by both Departments for patients receiving Addison Gibson grants. A process is now in place to identify patients, apply for a grant, verify financial eligibility, and process payments. Funding will be used by September so the departments can reapply for block grants for the following year.