Article Date: 9/1/2006

reflections - THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Helping Children in Need

The VSP Pediatric Outreach Program touches optometrists personally and professionally.

BY VALERIE M. KATTOUF, O.D.

In 2003, Anthony D'Andrea [Vision Service Plan's (VSP) director of development] approached me to develop a community vision program concentrating on the pediatric population, stressing the need for early vision intervention and treatment. Months later, the Pediatric Outreach Program (POP) was born. We have visited more than 40 Head Start agencies in the Chicago area. Most of these agencies and their constituents are underserved, with a high occurrence of amblyogenic risk factors. To date we've seen about 3,000 children. Of those, 15% to 20% have significant refractive errors and one-third are uninsured.

The POP has had more impact on my professional and personal lives than I ever expected. What started as a small program that may have lasted just months has turned into a service that the community is starving for. Three components of the program have had a compelling effect on those involved.

Dr. Kattouf examines a preschool patient.

Pediatric patients

The most compelling stories are of the children. I'll never forget the combative three-year-old boy whose retinoscopy revealed 13.00D of myopia. After putting a trial frame on, he literally breathed a sigh of relief, lay calmly in his mother's lap and begged me not to take off the glasses. Kids who had been diagnosed with developmental delays now thrive with proper spectacle correction.

Parents and agency employees

The adults involved in our outreach program benefit most from the education they receive. Examining non-verbal and preschool children seems impossible to many. Most parents believe that because their child is fully functioning and able to track objects visually, that vision problems and amblyopia are not possible. The POP has allowed optometry to demonstrate its scope of practice as well as the benefits of early detection and treatment of vision problems.

Optometry students

Participation in the POP has a lasting impact on the students involved. Most start out with little to no experience with young children. They begin tentative and fearful, usually allowing the child to control them. After two weeks of high-volume, comprehensive eye exams, the students' comfort level and confidence soar. At the end of the three-month rotation their technical skills are superb, as are their abilities to diagnosis and treat infants and preschoolers. Many students have told us they appreciate the program and the skills they've gathered. Students say they want to complete pediatric residency programs as well as start similar outreach programs in their own communities.

Worth every minute

The POP has been a bright spot in my career. The impact that those involved have made in training future optometrists and treating young patients who may otherwise go without care creates a tremendous amount of pride in my profession.

For more information on the VSP Pediatric Outreach Program, contact Dr. Kattouf at (312) 949-7000 or e-mail her at vkattouf@ico.edu.

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH RENé LUTHE, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8132 OR LUTHER@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Issue: September 2006