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ophthalmology

AMD is the leading cause behind vision loss in individuals over 50. (Photo by U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)

A Penn Medicine study discovered that missing one ophthalmology appointment within a 2-year period could cause decreased visual acuity in elderly patients who already have age-related macular degeneration. 

The researchers noted that appointment adherence is important for treating AMD, which is the leading cause of vision loss in individuals over 50, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. AMD treatment must be administered in-person, unlike other medications that can be filled over the phone, Penn Medicine News reported.

The disease is caused by the accumulation of debris in the center of the retina, which can lead to loss of retina function and blurred eyesight, Penn Medicine News reported. An estimated 1.8 million Americans suffer from AMD, and an additional 7.3 million Americans are at risk of developing the disease, the CDC reported. The most common form of AMD is dry, however wet AMD is a more severe condition, according to the CDC.

Although injection of anti-VEGF drugs by an ophthalmologist can help maintain patients’ vision, there is currently no cure for wet AMD. This form of treatment requires frequent trips to the eye doctor, Penn Medicine News reported. Anti-VEGF treatments can only be administered by ophthalmologists, making attendance at scheduled visits critical.

Medicare's planned insurance reimbursement policies could, however, lead this discovery to have a significant impact on clinicians financially, as the monetary risk will begin to shift towards physicians, Penn Medicine News reported.

Penn Medicine Professor of Ophthalmology Brian VanderBeek previously worked alongside a team of researchers to analyze the data of a two-year clinical trial that researched the correlation between eye doctor visit adherence and eyesight in patients with AMD. 

He stressed the importance of how changes in Medicare policy will affect physicians treating the disease. 

“Nowhere in ophthalmology will this conflict arise more than in the treatment of patients with AMD,” Vanderbeek told Penn Medicine. 

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