When orthoptist Bonita Schweinler joined the practice, Dr. Lee recognized she had a capable research coordinator who could facilitate patient participation in the PEDIG studies.
That was 10 years and 15 research studies ago. Together, they successfully applied to join the PEDIG network, which now includes 100 participating sites in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Dr. Lee has served on the group’s executive committee and as protocol chair for the 2008-2011 Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction Study. Bonita served on the steering committee for that study and enrolled its first patient. Dr. Lee has co-authored several journal articles.
“The studies have kept us on the cutting edge,” Dr. Lee notes. “They have set the standard of care in many areas.”
Take amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” for example. “In all of ophthalmology,” Dr. Lee observes, “there is no better bang for the buck than the treatment of amblyopia.” Eye patches and eye drops aren’t very high-tech, she allows, but they save vision for a lifetime. The last decade’s research has significantly refined amblyopia treatments.
Research is a big extra commitment for Dr. Lee and Bonita. In addition to serving on committees, they attend three or four national meetings per year. The research itself requires more frequent and longer visits with patients as well as much more paperwork.
Patients and families also make generous commitments. Nearly 75% of local children and parents who are invited to join a research study accept the offer. They then visit the doctor often and follow strict protocols for extended periods of time. Some patients follow protocols for months before they even qualify for a study. Sometimes they improve so much during the “run-in” to the study, they don’t qualify for randomization. But whatever the result, “we do appreciate it very much,” Bonita emphasizes.
All the staff members at St. Luke’s Children’s Ophthalmology feel a special bond with their research patients. And the rewards are significant. Research gives patients “outstanding options at the forefront of knowledge,” Dr. Lee says.
“Here we are, in Boise, Idaho,” Bonita concludes with pride and a little wonder, “playing a part in studies that have changed the course of pediatric ophthalmology worldwide.”