BACKGROUND:

Vision screening is an essential element of well-child care for young children. Recently, several professional groups have recommended the use of instrument-based screening; however, studies demonstrating the effectiveness of this technique in pediatric primary care settings are lacking.

METHODS:

We designed a cluster randomized quality improvement project to test the implementation of instrument-based vision screening for 3- to 5-year-old children within a pediatric primary care network. The program consisted of 12 pediatric practices randomized into phase 1 and phase 2 groups. We evaluated the effect of the intervention on completed vision screening at well-child visits, family satisfaction, and referrals to eye care specialists.

RESULTS:

Instrument-based vision screening increased completed screening among 3- to 5-year-old children from 54% to 89% in the phase 1 group and from 65% to 92% in the phase 2 group. Improvement was most marked among 3-year-old children, with completed screening increasing from 39% with chart-based screening to 87% with instrument screening. Family satisfaction was higher with instrument screening. In addition, instrument screening was associated with a 15% reduction in referrals to eye care specialists.

CONCLUSIONS:

Instrument-based vision screening for preschool-aged children can be effectively implemented into primary care practice, results in substantially improved rates of completed vision screening at well-child visits, and may result in a reduction in unnecessary referrals to eye care specialists. Additional research is needed regarding how best to overcome barriers to the widespread use of this technology in pediatric primary care settings, as well as its longer-term effect on referrals and the prevalence of amblyopia.

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