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Summer 2023

Research in Optometry Patient/Doctor Partnership


Milissa Bartold

At ICO, we have the great fortune of having a complex patient base that helps us strive to do more each day. Many of our patients come from socio-economically vulnerable populations and have lacked access to adequate health care throughout their lives. As a result, we find ourselves treating ocular conditions that are secondary to systemic diseases that have gone untreated or undertreated. Some come to us even before they see a primary-care doctor. Others struggle to pay for costly medications, and it's never easy to follow a treatment plan, when you might be a shift worker whose schedule constantly changes. While it is not the decision that we might hope they make, we are aware that it is the reality in which they live.

Manisha Parikh '24 presents her research poster at Academy 2022, in San Diego, California.

This challenges our providers to come up with new and better ways of meeting the needs of their patients. It also means our providers need to stay current on how the management of systemic disease such as hypertension and diabetes interact with ocular health so that they can be partners with our patients who may be more likely to come see us since their vision is affecting their ability to work, even though the underlying cause might be systemic. We meet them where they are and go from there.

As a mission-based institution, that premise is at the heart of what we do every day. We educate students to become excellent clinicians who strive so every patient they meet will receive optimal care.

But all knowledge has limits. Optometry has evolved substantially over its history. In addition, advances and changes in health care as well as lifestyles have played a significant role in challenging optometry to continue to evolve. One constant stays: all of this is done to best meet the needs of the patients in front of us. Many of these projects have been realized with the support of the Associate Dean for Research, Dr. Yi Pang.

“Research at ICO/IEI has grown so much over the last 15 years.” says Dr. Pang “We have clinical trials and new research treatments in various areas including myopia management, glaucoma, dry eye disease, amblyopia, strabismus, binocular vision, and contact lens. The dedication of faculty to research and patient care is the key reason that research has robustly increased at ICO. IEI has more than 85,000 annual patient visits, which makes ICO research in all areas of eye and vision care vigorous.” 

At ICO, we have an academic and clinical interest in advancing the field. We understand and accept our role in ensuring that the knowledge base is carefully transmitted and expanded to meet the field's needs. This also means involving students as often as possible in clinical research. Among these students is Manisha Parikh, a fourth-year student who spent a summer researching and working on a poster titled  “Meibomian Gland Atrophy and Dry Eye Measures in The Pediatric Population Using the Keratograph 5M.” She continued this research as a third-year project and has presented her findings at two conferences.

She says, “I am very grateful to have partaken in ICO/IEI’s robust clinical research in the last three years. It was amazing to see how many patients we were able to provide clinical care for. I remember the first time I performed iLux dry eye treatment on a pediatric patient, the look of astonishment on their face when I finished the first eyelid was a memory I would never forget. I was surprised by the numerous research opportunities provided at ICO and I would highly recommend current and future ICO students to participate. The research experience I gained at ICO was invaluable as it helped me critically evaluate how to best treat my patients. I plan to continue my research journey after my time at ICO, knowing it will make me a more well-rounded clinician.” 

Making sure science stays current with patient needs is the responsibility of all of us. At ICO, we are proud of our participation in clinical research, and we know this research changes the lives of our patients. Over the past several years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in not only our research topics, but also in the financial support we’ve been able to receive.

“ICO’s external research funding has dramatically increased. It's 10 fold more than 15 years ago,” says Dr. Pang. ICO receives research funding from NIH, private foundations, and industry. The high research quality and the caliber of our research faculty and supporting staff are the reasons that funding resources seek out ICO. The research projects and clinical trials provide our patients with new treatments. In addition, research provides a big financial relief for many of our patients. We provide free eye and vision treatments for our research patients.

“IEI has more than 85,000 annual patient visits, which makes 
ICO research at all areas of eye and vision care vigorous.” 

Yi Pang, OD, PhD

“The patients that are seen at IEI are very unique - we see so many types of ocular conditions and diseases you won't see anywhere else. We also see many patients that cannot be seen anywhere else, and that makes the patient visits even more valuable,” Manisha Parikh comments, “The clinical experience at IEI is amazing, it trains us, as students, to be well-versed in treating all types of conditions as well as to be able to think on our feet. Being able to truly impact our patients' lives makes working at IEI so important. I didn't realize how many patients we could provide clinical care to but seeing the vast network of IEI patients, it really did broaden my view of optometry. I feel IEI has done a great job providing affordable and thorough exams for everyone in our community.”

Daniel Ren, Chief Operating Officer for the Illinois Eye Institute shared this about the uniqueness of our patient population.  "For more than a decade, the IEI has witnessed a greater influx of patients with advanced eye disease.  We estimate that 30% of the IEI’s patient population are children and adolescents whereas 70% of the IEI’s patient population are adult or senior patients at serious risk of vision loss due to underlying health issues (hypertension, obesity, diabetes). 85% of our patients come from within the City of Chicago, with most being from Bronzeville, the South Side, Southwest Side and the West Side of the city." Our patient base is racially diverse and medically underserved.  It is estimated that more than 90% are African American/Black or Latinx. 

By partnering with us in these studies, our patients can receive treatment offerings that may not otherwise be accessible to them based on cost or proximity. For us, this partnership allows our providers to study and explore new treatments and therapies and gain better understanding of the clinical complexities of our patient population and ways in which we may be able to supply better outcomes. Oftentimes, within our very walls, we can find the diversity and complexity of cases we need to begin a new study.

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