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Supporting Patient Choice and Access to Eye Therapies 

Katrina Bouzanis

Acting Director, Policy, Advocacy and Innovation, International Federation of Ageing

Dr. Jane Barratt 

Global Advisor, International Federation of Ageing 

Regardless of their eye condition or disease, older Canadians need access to a range of safe, effective, and appropriate vision care treatments. 

Retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and diabetic macular edema come with sometime onerous treatment regimes. “These are really intensive, chronic diseases which mean you’re likely going to be visiting the ophthalmologist every month to six weeks for the rest of your life,” says Katrina Bouzanis, Acting Director, Policy, Advocacy and Innovation, International Federation of Ageing (IFA). “As you can imagine, this puts an intense burden not only on the patient, but also on family members, loved ones, and caregivers,” she says. 

Challenges to navigating eye care 

With Canada’s rapidly aging population there is increased prevalence of age-related conditions, including eye conditions. “Access to safe, effective, and appropriate evidence-based treatment for these conditions is critical to preserving vision, maintaining independence, preventing complications, and improving overall health and quality of life,” says Dr. Jane Barratt, Global Advisor, IFA. “It’s also important to reducing the economic burden, because there’s a knock-on effect in the system when someone has diminishing vision,” she says.

Access to treatment, however, can be challenging. “Despite our publicly funded healthcare system, there is limited coverage for vision care,” says Dr. Barratt. “Not only are there high costs to treatment, but the shortage of eye care providers like ophthalmologists, retinal specialists, and neuro-ophthalmologists limits the opportunities for people to be seen in a timely fashion. On top of that, the process to get to a specialist is complicated and varies from province to province,” says Dr. Barratt. 

Navigating these different types of care pathways can be a confusing experience for patients. “By the time they get care, patients may already have irreversible vision loss, so by alleviating some of these challenges, patients are more likely to adhere to their treatment and have better outcomes,” says Bouzanis.

Eye See You program 

The IFA’s Eye See You program collaborates across sectors and disciplines to address the vision needs of Canadians, especially those with age-related vision conditions. “We work with organizations representing both older people and vision, sitting at that intersection of both, and our focus is on improving the current systems through research and education,” says Dr. Barratt. One of the program’s mandates is to ensure patient choice to therapy, in consultation with their healthcare provider.

Biosimilars — a highly similar version of biologic drugs — have recently been approved in Canada for treating eye diseases and are championed as a more accessible and cost-effective treatment. “They are one of many several treatment regimens for age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macular edema and we recognize their importance in the ophthalmology landscape.  However, we also want to ensure that the physician in consultation with their patient can develop an appropriate tailored treatment plan to deliver the best outcomes,” she says. 

Vision health is important to healthy aging. “Because a lot of older Canadians may have other chronic conditions like diabetes, they may not be making vision their number one priority,” says Bouzanis. “Our aim is to help protect it by raising awareness and advocating for optimal vision care, so they can age in good health and wellness,” she says. 

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This article was made possible by the support of Bayer Canada.

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