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California Optometric Association-Led Effort Helps Diabetes Patients Connect with Critical Health Care

California Optometric Association


February 13, 2019

Contact: Jenna Thompson, 916.444.7280,

California Optometric Association-Led Effort Helps
Diabetes Patients Connect with Critical Health Care

Innovative Strategy Helps Members Access Care and Manage Diabetes;
Lower Risk for Complications

Policy brief illustrates opportunities for optometrists to help bridge the divide for communities struggling to access primary care

Sacramento, CA – A new policy brief from California Health Policy Strategies finds that an innovative partnership between the California Optometric Association (COA), Anthem Blue Cross Medi-Cal Health Plan and community health centers across California was effective in connecting diabetes patients with crucial, comprehensive diabetes care and treatment. The analysis is important because as the human and financial tolls of diabetes are skyrocketing, the approach pioneered by COA, Anthem and health clinics offers an opportunity to connect more patients with care that will help them manage diabetes and reduce complications, care that they might not have otherwise received.

“Comprehensive eye exams provide a double benefit in the fight against diabetes; not only are they essential for diabetic patients to preserve their vision, but because eye doctors are often the first to detect early warning signs of diabetes and refer patients to the care they need to manage the disease and prevent complications like blindness and amputations,” said COA President Dr. Ranjeet S. Bajwa, OD., FAAO, Diplomate ABO. “As diabetes has grown to epidemic proportions in California, optometrists are proud to partner with health plans and community health providers to find innovative ways to expand access to diabetes care that can pay off in lives saved.”

Anthem Blue Cross Medi-Cal Health Plan reached out to members with a history of diabetes who had not accessed recommended health screenings, according to plan records, inviting them to the Diabetes Clinic Day at a local health center. The hosting community health clinic used their own staff optometrists or hosted volunteer optometrists recruited by COA to conduct eye exams for the patients.  At the same time, the health clinic staff conducted other routine diabetes monitoring such as blood pressure checks, blood and urine tests, diabetes education and referring to a visit with a primary care physician if warranted.

172 patients were seen at four clinics held in Fresno, Sacramento and Butte County:

  • 31 patients, or 18% of patients had diabetic retinopathy, a sight-threatening condition where high blood sugar levels cause damage to blood vessels in the retina
  • 72 patients, or 42% of patients showed signs of other serious eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration, which untreated can lead to blindness

More than half the state’s population has diabetes or is at risk for developing the chronic, eye-sight robbing condition. The Sacramento Bee reported that the rate of diabetes deaths has grown “exponentially” in Californians under age 55. The cost of treating diabetes in California was $27 billion in 2012, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The policy brief also highlights how integrating optometrists into primary care can be especially beneficial for medically vulnerable patients, increasing crucial opportunities to connect patients with ongoing care. Last week, the California Future Health Workforce Commission projected a shortfall of 4,100 primary care clinicians by 2030 in California. Optometrists, who undergo extensive education and training, have already taken on increasing and pivotal roles in filling the access gap, most recently by getting authority to offer vaccinations. Greater integration of optometrists into primary care can help bridge the access divide especially for communities who face geographical, language, or other barriers.

Read the policy brief here:

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California Optometric Association is an organization of doctors of optometry statewide working to assure quality health care for all Californians.


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California Optometric Association
2701 Del Paso Road, Ste. 130-398 | Sacramento, CA 95835 | 833-206-0598