16/03/2015 - 10:54

Turner turns VISION into reality

16/03/2015 - 10:54


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This year’s First Amongst Equals winner is a passionate medical specialist, but he’s also a visionary entrepreneur who has a lot in common with successful business leaders.

Turner turns VISION into reality
This year’s First Amongst Equals winner Angus Turner. Photo: Attila Csaszar

This year’s First Amongst Equals winner is a passionate medical specialist, but he’s also a visionary entrepreneur who has a lot in common with successful business leaders.

Angus Turner’s calling in life was defined early in his upbringing.

He grew up in rural South Africa in a family that boasted five generations of country doctors, and was driven by the example of his father and grandfather to follow a similar path.

Dr Turner’s specialist field is ophthalmology, which he discovered during high school when involved in the dissection of an ox’s eye.

He recalled racing from the science lab to email the professor of opthalmology at Oxford University to ask for a job.

As it turned out, that same professor ended up offering Dr Turner his first job, after he completed his medical studies at The University of Western Australia.

Dr Turner’s current focus is on the high rates of blindness and impaired vision in rural Australia.

He says he is driven by a dogged determination to do something about it.

“The problem exists and therefore I am committed to fixing it,” Dr Turner said.

To translate this goal into practical outcomes, he established Lions Outback Vision in 2010.

Since then, Dr Turner has tackled many challenges shared by successful business people.

He has raised money, negotiated with governments, led a growing team, and managed extraordinary logistical challenges – all with the goal of delivering improved services to his ‘customers’.

Growing demand

The number of people treated by Lions Outback Vision in rural and remote communities has grown substantially.

It increased to 3,235 patients in 2013 and jumped by 66 per cent to 4,839 patients in 2014.

The number of patients treated illustrates the scale of the problem.

Dr Turner said the rate of blindness among indigenous Australians was six times higher than for the rest of the population, while the rate of diabetic-related vision loss was 14 times higher.

Yet he said 94 per cent of vision loss was preventable or treatable.

Dr Turner said Lions Outback Vision sought to integrate screening, optometry and specialist ophthalmology services.

“It’s about teams of people and everyone doing the job that is best suited to them, to be as efficient as possible,” he said.

Team effort

Lions Eye Vision has about 10 full-time staff, but is supplemented by specialists who volunteer time for visits to rural clinics.

This includes friends and colleagues Dr Turner cajoles into helping out.

It also uses clinic nurses and medical students who have been posted to country hospitals.

“It needs to be well coordinated and integrated, so that when our people turn up the equipment is there, the patients are there, and they can use their skills,” Dr Turner said.

Some of the clinics are in hospitals with good facilities, but others are in remote communities with old equipment.

“It’s because of this disparity of equipment and difficulties we have in providing the same access for everyone, that we are fundraising for the mobile vision van,” he said.

Dr Turner is aiming to raise $5 million for the Lions Outback Van.

He has commitments for $4 million and needs the balance so that he can launch the service.

“We want the same level of equipment and access to technology in the country as we have in the city,” Dr Turner told Business News.

The van would help to address the logistical challenges facing the service in remote locations.

“You spend the first hour constructing your room and the patient flow,” Dr Turner said.

“You need to help the clerical staff at the front, you need to get your equipment set up in the rooms, and you need to designate everyone’s roles.

“Then we have to deal with a large volume of patients – anywhere from 30 or 60 per day.

“Each patient has several stations to visit.

“There is a lot of flexibility required, they’ve often travelled a long way to get there.

“Having a lot of people can be overwhelming for the patients, so we need to set up appropriate private spaces to discuss surgical options.

“Then, at the end you need to pack up and catch a plane.

“When you flop on to a plane at the end of the week you are exhausted, but there is a feeling that something good has happened and that is quite rewarding.”

Support network

Dr Turner said there was a long history of outreach in Australia, often through city-based specialists who serviced specific towns.

“What’s been lacking is the overall statewide picture, and what happens when someone leaves,” he said.

“We need to provide the service in a more integrated fashion, making use of the optometrists and the screening programs, and not relying just on individuals.”

As well as running Lions Outback Vision, Dr Turner is involved in a number of research streams at the Nedlands-based Lions Eye Institute.

The institute was established in 1983 by Ian Constable and has become a centre of excellence focused on clinical care and research.

It provides substantial support for Lions Outback Vision through premises, staffing services, occupational safety and health, and governance arrangements.

The institute also has research programs focused on better use of telehealth services, which Dr Turner believes hold great potential.

Another research focus is diabetic screening, to ensure treatment is better focused on people with high needs.

Delivering high standards of care to patients in remote locations is also a major research focus.

Dr Turner completed his medical studies at UWA in 2000 after which he won a Rhodes scholarship to study evidence-based medicine at Oxford University.

He undertook further specialist studies in Melbourne and Sydney before returning to Perth to establish Lions Outback Vision in 2010.

This year’s First Amongst Equals winner is a passionate medical specialist, but he’s also a visionary entrepreneur who has a lot in common with successful business leaders.


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