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New urgent care in Pittsburgh 'sees' patients for vision health emergencies

An eye examination contraption.
Nathan Langer

Eye pain, abrupt decreases in vision or distorted vision, including seeing flashes, double or shadows — these are some of the ophthalmology emergencies treated at a new urgent care vision clinic, which opened this week in Pittsburgh's Uptown neighborhood.

The UPMC Vision Institute Urgent Eye Care Clinic is adjacent to UPMC Mercy. Hours are 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. on weekdays, though administrators eventually want to ramp up services to a 24/7 schedule.

People needing immediate eye care will benefit from treatment at the vision clinic which they might not find in a standard emergency department, said Dr. Jerome Finkelstein, vice chair of clinical operations for UPMC's Department of Ophthalmology.

"Patients with sudden loss of vision, or they have new flashing lights or floaters in their vision – it's not something that an emergency room doctor can easily diagnose," said Finkelstein. "That needs specialized equipment that they're not trained in using to determine what the reason is, and then get the patient to the right place for care."

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For example, the new urgent care has an "Optos," or a wide-field retinal imaging camera used to diagnose patients with retinal detachment. Also, there's an Optical Coherence Tomography machine, which uses reflected light to create pictures of the back of your eye — as the Cleveland Clinic explains, it can help ophthalmologists identify diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes-related retinopathy.

Urgent care ophthalmology clinics are often found in large urban areas and major academic centers, according to Dr. Michelle Andreoli, the clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

"In general, the patients find it very, very, very satisfactory," said Andreoli. "We find it helpful internally because then at least we know the person examining the eyeball for the eyeball problem knows what they're looking at."

Andreoli adds that for some conditions, the earlier a patient seeks treatment, the better their overall outcomes, including for retinal tears and retinal detachments. If some issues go untreated for too long, it can result in blindness in the affected eye.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.