Hardeep Kataria, OD, FAAO, was a pre-med undergraduate student when she began volunteering at the Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida. It was a starting point from which her passion for medical optometry has grown.
She started an internship program there, creating manuals and guides for student technician education with an emphasis on the medical eye care in optometry and creating stronger connections with the ophthalmology team. She developed a greater understanding of co-management at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute during her fourth-year rotation through New England College of Optometry, and her residency at the Baltimore VA Medical Center further solidified her plan for her future career after working alongside an optometrist who was serving as the chief of clinic. “It was a unique situation, and I saw how optometry has a huge role to play in medical cases as I learned from glaucoma and retina MDs,” Dr. Kataria says.
FINDING THE PERFECT MATCH
While she was certain that providing medical eye care was her goal, Dr. Kataria says that it took some time to find the position she envisioned after she completed her residency in 2013. She tried many settings to be sure—a solo ophthalmology office, retail setting and multispecialty OD/MD practice—but none was quite right.
Then, in 2017, she received a phone call from Sanjay Logani, MD, FACS, of Advanced Retina Associates in Oxnard, California, after a friend had referred Dr. Kataria. “He’d heard about my passion,” she recalls. “I loved the emphasis on medical optometry, and he was looking for someone to manage primarily anterior segment, dry eye, allergy, glaucoma and stable retina patients.” She joined the team on a leap of faith three years ago to focus on medical eye care with no refraction. “It seemed almost too good to be true.”
But it wasn’t. “We found a way to work together symbiotically in a professional manner,” Dr. Kataria says. Dr. Logani focuses on surgical procedures and advanced retina cases, while Dr. Kataria co-manages with him and develops her glaucoma and anterior segment clinic. In the past year, the office has also added a refractive surgeon.
EDUCATION FOR PATIENTS AND COLLEAGUES
In June 2020, Dr. Kataria was named as the first optometrist to the Speakers Bureau for FeminEm, an organization that educates and promotes women in emergency medicine, highlights gender bias in health care and organizes education around the topic.
It’s another step forward in her continual efforts to provide education that extends beyond the conversations she has in the exam room, introducing patients to the huge role that optometry plays in whole body health and wellness. “I love the aspect of providing preventive care and being able to diagnose systemic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” she says. Then there are the unique cases—patients with lupus, neurosyphilis, secondary complications from radiation retinopathy with a primary cancer of the retina and heart disease, which is discovered via a closer look at the back of the eye.
Dr. Kataria also enjoys the connections she’s made with other health care professionals—PCPs, internal medicine doctors, endocrinologists, rheumatologists and more—through co-management. “When we are the first health care provider to identify these conditions, it sends patients into a whirlwind work up,” she says.
A recent case was a patient who came in complaining of acute vision loss. She was sent for a stroke workup; it was determined that she had an active stroke and lost her vision from it. Further management was needed with a neurologist and cardiologist, but with vision loss as her primary symptom, Dr. Kataria took the reins and helped co-manage the case with the whole treatment team.
MAKING HER CONTRIBUTION
When Dr. Kataria started at the practice, her interests were primarily focused on everything posterior segment, she says, and her interest in the anterior segment evolved and grew from working closely with her glaucoma patients. “They are so miserable from medications they are on that their anterior segment is completely compromised,” she explains. “I found myself wishing that I had the tools to help take care of them in a more comprehensive way.” So she launched the practice’s dry eye clinic, bringing in technology such as Lipiflow and BlephEx. She’s also looking forward to expanding services for specialty, therapeutic contact lenses.
NO DOWN TIME DURING COVID-19
Due to the nature of the care she provides, Dr. Kataria was as busy as ever through the COVID-19 pandemic. While many adjustments were made for safety, she continued to see her high- and medium- risk patients. She says that she’s glad she was able to be there to serve them from acute vision loss, foreign bodies, acute corneal ulcers and a retinal detachment—to name a few. “Those patients are the reason I come in,” she says. “We are happy that we have the opportunity to be available to them because not every ER has an ophthalmologist and the ability to view the eye the way that we do.”
Dr. Kataria provides ocular education on her Instagram page. Follow her @dr.hardeep.kataria