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Eye Injury Registry Promises to Advance Vision Care

Lt. Cmdr. Lewis Fermaglich, a medical officer, examines a local man’s eye in Trailer Town, Iraq.

Lt. Cmdr. Lewis Fermaglich, a medical officer, examines a local man’s eye in Trailer Town, Iraq, on July 31, 2008. Marine photo by Lance Cpl. Robert Medina.

Military and Veteran Affairs Department officials are launching a first-of-its-kind eye injury and vision registry to help improve care for the many service members who have returned home from war with ocular damage.

Serious eye trauma is the second most common injury among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 16 percent of all wounded service members experiencing problems ranging from distorted vision to blindness, according to the Armed Forced Health Surveillance Center. Additionally, the Vision Center for Excellence has reported that up to 75 percent of all traumatic brain injury patients experience vision problems.

"This will be the largest, most robust eye injury and vision registry the world has ever seen," said Dr. Mary Lawrence, interim director of the Vision Center of Excellence, which is based in Bethesda, Md.

The Defense and Veterans Eye Injury and Vision Registry allows health care providers and researchers to submit and review data on the diagnoses, treatment and outcomes of service members who sustained eye or vision injuries during combat. Vision problems related to traumatic brain injuries are included in the registry.

The data collected through the joint registry will be used to expand best practices and clinical guidelines for vision injuries and conditions, inform DOD and VA policies regarding vision care and help guide vision-related research. As of January, 22,793 patients were enrolled in the registry.

"The possibilities for improvement in eye care are endless," Lawrence said. "Medicine is just starting to learn the power of big data."

The registry is currently in pilot form, but is expected to be fully operational by 2015.

Registry program manager Patty Morris said the registry could provide vision researchers with the data they need to someday develop vision-restoring prosthetics.

The registry is the product of a partnership between the Vision Center for Excellence, the Defense Health Agency and the Defense Department and Veteran Affairs vision communities.

Morris' team has already earned numerous accolades since it began developing the registry in October 2010, most notably for their collaboration and technology. Most recently, they were among the top eight finalists at the Igniting Innovation 2014 Showcase and Awards last month in Washington, D.C., which recognizes transformative technological solutions to government challenges.

The registry has also been nominated for an Excellence.Gov Award. Morris will also be honored next week at a Federal 100 awards gala in Washington, D.C., held to recognize leaders in the federal government information technology community.

"This registry is going to have significant outcomes not only for providers, but for our war fighters and their families," Morris said. "We are building a tool that will touch someone's life."