Preventative Medicine: Lessons from Serving at a Pediatric Eyecare Clinic

Preventive medicine is a vital pillar of public health, especially for pediatric patients. At the Illinois Eye Institute (IEI) Princeton Vision Clinic - where children from pre-K to grade 12 are able to receive comprehensive eye care regardless of ability to pay - we have the opportunity to provide high-quality, specialized care to children with risk factors for advanced conditions of the eye. One such disease is keratoconus. Normally, your cornea is the clear, dome-shaped window at the front of your eye. It focuses light into your eye to project the world in front of you onto your retinas. However, in keratoconus, the cornea tissue thins out and bulges into a cone-like shape. The distorted shape of the cornea brings light rays out of focus, which can alter vision, daily tasks, and learning.

Together with the team at IEI Princeton, I have learned how to use the advanced corneal tomography screening tool: the Oculus Pentacam. Training directly with optometrists and corneal specialists to understand this progressive disease that often presents later in life has helped me in my role as a patient navigator at the clinic through NHC Chicago. Answering complex questions, listening to patients and their families, and educating our patient base on the advantages of minimally-invasive screening and tracking has been a hallmark of my service. Often times, optometrists will request these corneal scans on patients with a family history of keratoconus, other disease risk factors, or to simply obtain a baseline scan.

Among my unique roles at the clinic, bridging the patient, family, provider, and overall healthcare system in the screening and prevention of keratoconus has been the most pedagogical and pertinent component of my service. As I continue to learn in my role as a patient navigator,community member and future provider in the city of Chicago, I have first-hand experience of knowing the difference between identifying the risk factors for disease onset versus waiting until actual diagnosis or etiology of a serious condition. In the unique setting of IEI Princeton, an exclusively pediatric facility, I am discovering that pediatrics may serve as the optimal ground for disease prevention and establishing healthy habits that will hopefully continue through to adulthood. As I continue my service year, I hope to build upon my service with the Oculus Pentacam, some different research projects using the technology, and figuring out other ways to incorporate preventative medicine ideas into my service at IEI Princeton through NHC Chicago.

This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Zach Schreckenberger.

Zach is a Patient Navigator at Illinois Eye Institute at Princeton Vision Clinic.