Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Referral patterns to an ophthalmic outpatient clinic by general practitioners and ophthalmic opticians and the role of these professionals in screening for ocular disease.

British Medical Journal 1988; 297 doi: (Published 05 November 1988) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1988;297:1162
  1. R. J. Harrison,
  2. J. M. Wild,
  3. A. J. Hobley
  1. Burton General Hospital, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire.


    Case notes of 1113 consecutive new patients referred to a consultant ophthalmologist at a district general hospital were reviewed to determine the source and efficacy of referrals and the current screening practices of general practitioners and ophthalmic opticians. General practitioners initiated referral in 546 cases (49%) and ophthalmic opticians referral in 439 (39%). Visual loss or visual disturbance was the most important single reason for referral (345 cases; 31%), followed by suspected glaucoma (145 cases; 13%), abnormalities of binocular vision (140; 12.5%), disorders of eyelids or ocular adnexa (127; 11%), and red eye (86; 8%). General practitioners referred many more patients with disorders of the eyelids and adnexa and ophthalmic opticians many more patients with suspected glaucoma. Ophthalmic opticians were far more likely than general practitioners to refer patients with suspected glaucoma correctly. A total of 180 patients (16%) were referred from ocular screening, in 149 cases by ophthalmic opticians and in 10 by general practitioners. Seventy patients had glaucoma or incomplete features of glaucoma, all of them referred by ophthalmic opticians. Of eight diabetic patients referred by ophthalmic opticians, three had asymptomatic disease and in two diabetes was diagnosed as a result of ocular screening. No patient was referred for asymptomatic diabetic retinopathy from screening by general practitioners. Ophthalmic opticians were more likely than general practitioners to diagnose retinopathy requiring photocoagulation. Use of a community based service to screen for glaucoma could save unnecessary consultant outpatient appointments. A similar service could facilitate detection of diabetic retinopathy at a stage when treatment is most effective.