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Telehealth enabled eye clinic opens in Ucluelet First Nations community of Hitacu

New eye care centre is the first of its kind in B.C. and open to everyone living on the West Coast
Dr. John Lam tunes in on the telehealth big screen as optometrist Dr. Gary Jassal tests the new equipment with eye care technician Eilidh Morrison during a Sunday training session in Hitacu. (Nora O’Malley photo)

Access to eye care on the Coast is closer to home thanks to a partnership with Ucluelet First Nation and the BC Doctors of Optometry (BCDO).

Located at the Huupatu Health Centre at 100 Hitacu Road, this new telehealth enabled eye clinic will serve the roughly 4,500 residents of Ucluelet First Nation, Toquaht, Ucluelet, Tla-o-qui-aht, Tofino, Ahousaht and Hesquiaht.

“It’s the first one of its kind in all of B.C.,” said past president of BCDO Dr. John Lam during staff training on Sunday.

To bring the eye centre to life, Ucluelet First Nation provided the office space and BCDO invested $160,000 of capital funding. The rural eye clinic program is part of a larger vision thought-out by the provincial Ministry of Health to create more accessible health care solutions for First Nations communities.

The Huupatu eye centre includes state-of-the-art equipment, which can take images of the tissues of the eye, plus a laser scanning instrument to more accurately diagnose and monitor macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. The suite of equipment boasts the top-of-the-line ocular telehealth platform, Topcon RDx.

“It’s the best of the best,” said Dr. Lam, adding that having high speed Internet was key.

Currently, Nanaimo-based Dr. Gary Jassal travels to Hitacu once a month for in-person eye exams. This new hybrid telehealth model of optometry will allow patients to arrange emergency or routine eye exams when required or when it’s convenient.

“A lot of surfers have contact related infections. We can treat that,” said Dr. Jassal.

“Telehealth increases access to your doctor, but it’s needs to be the same doctor who knows your history,” Dr. Lam notes.

Once the eye clinic is up and running, Dr. Lam says they hope to train locals to work as eye technicians.

“That’s one of our goals is to fund training for First Nation staff with the Canadian Association of Optometrists,” said Dr. Lam.

“From routine or emergency eye exams to check your vision and eye health, to purchasing eyeglasses and contact lenses, a doctor of optometry will now be more accessible,” Dr. Lam re-iterates.

To book an eye exam at Huupatu, visit or call 250-591-1072.

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