Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.
UAB Callahan Eye Hospital and Clinics is offering a safe and convenient way for people who have glaucoma to be monitored.Although the coronavirus pandemic has caused many interruptions to everyday life,
Nearly 3 million Americans have glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Increased eye pressure is a risk factor for the most common form of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma. There are often no early symptoms, which is why 50 percent of people with glaucoma do not know they have the disease. There is no cure yet for glaucoma; but if it is caught early and eye pressure is controlled, you can preserve your vision and prevent vision loss. Taking action to preserve your vision health is key.
That is where Callahan’s new drive-through intraocular pressure testing site comes in.
“With the restrictions on how many people can come to the office, and the fact that most of our patients are elderly and at a higher risk of COVID-19, we felt that it would be a good idea to try to check glaucoma patients’ eye pressure in a more remote and accessible way with a drive-through,” said Lindsay Rhodes, M.D., assistant professor with the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “As part of glaucoma care, one of the things we regularly check is the intraocular pressure — the pressure inside of the eye — in order to prevent glaucoma from worsening.”
Luckily, the physical layout of Callahan’s building makes drive-through testing easily accessible. Patients can drive into the shaded loading zone and easily have their temperature checked and get screened for any COVID-19 symptoms. Technicians can lean into the car and check the patient’s pressure. Tests last between five and 10 minutes. Doctors then follow up a few days later with a telemedicine visit to discuss the results and any changes to the glaucoma treatment plan.
“I call the patient and we discuss what medications they’re using — if they are using them correctly, if they have any questions about them — and then we go over what the eye pressure was and if any changes need to be made or if we need to schedule another visit,” Rhodes said. “Responses from the patients have been excellent, and I think they feel it is exciting that we are doing something new and creative.”
Rhodes says one of the biggest risk factors for glaucoma is age, and people older than 65 are at an even higher risk.
“African Americans are at much higher risk for glaucoma, and some studies report between an eight to 12 times higher risk,” Rhodes said. “African Americans also develop the disease earlier at a younger age and at a more severe level than other races. Family history also plays a major role.”
Currently, testing is being administered to patients who previously held in-person appointments that were interrupted by the pandemic. However, Rhodes says that, if patients are worried about their upcoming appointments and feel that they may be at risk by coming into the office, they may call 205-325-8620 to receive guidance about the drive-through or to set up a general telemedicine visit by either video or phone.
Currently, testing takes place on Tuesdays from 1-3 p.m.
Rhodes is a glaucoma specialist who researches the use of telemedicine to provide quality, cost-effective eye care to patients at risk for eye disease. She has led several telemedicine studies funded by the National Eye Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.