School is back in session, and you know what that means: it’s time for students to visit the doctor for vision and hearing screenings. If that’s not your first thought when you hear “back to school,” you can be sure it’s not your patients’ either. That’s why proactive patient education is especially vital at this time of year. After all, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems can profoundly impact a child’s learning. And because of technology use, certain health issues affecting the eyes and ears are on the rise. What you need to let your patients, and their parents, know.
Eye exams more important than ever
Back-to-school eye exams are more important than ever for a specific reason: increased screen use. Smartphones and tablets are now ever-present among teens and schoolchildren, both at home and in the classroom. These devices have an impact on users’ blink rate and tear production, and can even cause symptoms of dry eye disease in young people with otherwise healthy eyes, according to the Review of Optometry. The long-term effects on children’s eyes are not yet fully known.
A recent survey by the American Optometric Association (AOA) confirmed that increasing use of technology at home and at school is taking a toll on the eye health and vision of children in the U.S. More than 40 percent of parents reported that their children spend three or more hours a day using digital devices.
The message to patients should be that the most important thing to do is to have a comprehensive eye exam performed by an eye care professional. You can also share with patients healthy eye tips for screen users, and show videos on your website and in your waiting room such as:
Why school screenings don’t cut it
Many parents incorrectly assume that screenings done at school are sufficient. “However, many school vision screenings only test for distance visual acuity, and the vision skills needed for successful reading and learning are much more complex,” said AOA President Steven A. Loomis, O.D.
The research consistently suggests that children are being examined and/or screened at very low rates, reports the National Commission on Vision & Health (NCVH). Eight states currently do not require vision screenings at school. The NCVH found that:
- 25% of children aged 5-17 have a vision problem
- 79% have not visited an eye care provider in the past year
- 35% have never seen an eye care professional; and
- 40% who fail an initial vision screening do not receive the appropriate follow-up care
The need for better patient education is clear. As Loomis said, “As America’s family eye doctors, we feel we have a responsibility to the eye and vision health of our nation’s 38 million school-age children.”
How hearing screening helps
Just as important as screening children’s vision is testing for any hearing issues. As the Centers for Disease Control notes, “Hearing screening, especially at an early age, provides the opportunity to detect a student’s hearing loss or previously unrecognized hearing loss and intervene to limit further loss and improve learning.”
Parents may not realize the frequency of screening recommendations. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hearing screening should be conducted:
- At school entry for all children
- At least once at ages 6, 8, and 10
- At least once during middle school
- At least once during high school
- For any student entering a new school system without evidence of a previous hearing screening
Also let patients and their parents know that screening may be required more often for children with other known health or learning needs; speech, language, or developmental delays; or a family history of early hearing loss.
Once again, the increasing use of technology is a factor. One in five teens has some form of hearing loss today, about a 30 percent higher rate than in the 1980s and 1990s, reports the American Osteopathic Association. Many experts believe this is due in part to the increased use of headphones. “Listening through headphones at a high volume for extended periods of time can result in lifelong hearing loss for children and teens,” according to James E. Foy, D.O. “Even a mild hearing loss due to excessive noise could lead to developmental delays in speech and language.”
Patients, especially young ones, may not know the proper volume to prevent hearing loss, or realize that some hearing loss may not have obvious warning signs. Emphasize the need for a hearing test and examination by a trained medical provider. Your patient education can include videos such as:
Back-to-school is the perfect time to step up your patient education efforts and make sure the community knows what your practice offers and how you can help students be successful in the classroom this year.