Harry Aung: Envisioning the Future of Accessible Eye Care
What is the problem you hope to solve and how did you come to recognize it?
As I neared the end of my training in neuro-ophthalmology – a sub-specialty of neurology or ophthalmology that focuses on neurological diseases causing visual symptoms – and planning the next phase of my career, I was introduced to Jane Edmond, MD, Wong Family Emeritus University Chair in the Department of Ophthalmology. During our first meeting, I learned of the critical shortage of neuro-ophthalmic care available in Austin and central Texas in general, which is even more serious for safety-net populations facing significant barriers to health and eye care.
Coming from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, I experienced firsthand the effects of a shortage of quality health care. I have seen how this has impacted patients who received care at a later stage of their disease after irreversible damage had already occurred. I was immediately captivated and aligned with Dell Med’s goal of providing the highest quality eye care to patients in Austin, and have been here since Fall 2021 in pursuit of that goal.
What were your first steps in improving neuro-ophthalmic care here?
My first goal was to better introduce neuro-ophthalmology to the Austin medical community and general public. Our team has worked on general education initiatives, educating physicians about when their patient should be referred to a neuro-ophthalmologist, and about the diseases we diagnose and treat. We have also expanded our referral network so that patients can be easily referred and assessed in a timely manner.
Like Dell Med, the educational aspect of my job is very important to me. Therefore, I was thrilled to be part of the creation of the new ophthalmology residency here at Dell Med. I teach the next generation of physicians how to provide quality care for neuro-ophthalmic diseases, which will help expand access to much-needed patient care in the future.
With technological advancements in ophthalmic imaging, it has also become relatively quick and easy to take in-depth, high-resolution images of the retina and optic nerves – the parts of the eye that receive light and the images that are then transmitted to the brain. My colleagues at UT Health Austin and I plan to expand the reach of our care by establishing an ophthalmic diagnostic imaging service. This would allow patients to be referred for ocular imaging, which is not available in their provider’s office, along with our interpretation of the images. This service could be similar to a retinal and optic nerve radiology service and will help to speed up diagnosis and treatment.
What positions you to face this problem of access to eye care?
Because of my background, I know how much limited access to health care can impact a person’s life. Receiving quality medical care in Myanmar is a luxury for even the most basic needs, let alone for specialist care such as ophthalmology. To be evaluated by a doctor, you receive a token at the doctor’s office and wait for hours. When it is finally your turn, you will probably only be with the doctor for a few minutes.
Due to this scarcity of medical care, a doctor in Myanmar will see more than 50-60 patients a day. Often, patients who are financially capable are forced to travel to neighboring countries to receive immediate, high-level care.
Understanding that similar barriers exist for neuro-ophthalmic care in Texas, I wish Austinites had access to excellent local ophthalmic services without having to travel to Houston, Dallas, or beyond. Finally, it is my pleasure and privilege to work with dedicated colleagues and to be part of a medical school that is dedicated to expanding access to high-quality care for the citizens of Austin.
This news is part of Dell Med’s Voices, a series of profiles that showcase Dell Med employees as they work to improve health with a particular focus on our community.