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Business & Profession Comprehensive, Education and Training, Practice Management, Professional Development

In the Community, For the Community

Ophthalmologists and optometrists are specialists in different, yet necessarily complementary disciplines, which has fostered a very positive relationship between the two. And that is particularly true for the community optometrist.

Healthcare is ever evolving, and we are continually challenging ourselves to find more efficient and effective ways in which we can deliver the highest quality patient care. Taking the provision of care into the community is a fundamental part of this endeavor – and ophthalmologists can benefit enormously from the skills of the community optometrist. We are looking at a valuable resource of highly skilled individuals working from well-equipped practices who are already familiar with the local patients. Moreover, their relationship with the patient is often very close, having been formed over a number of years.

I believe we can significantly improve our provision of secondary care by bringing it closer to patients and enabling them to receive effective follow-up closer to their homes. To achieve this, we should be looking at ways to support and up-skill our local optometrists in areas and practices to which they may not normally be exposed. It is important for the optometrist to have an oversight of the full patient pathway, from diagnostics to recovery. The positive interplay and good relations between the ophthalmologist and the optometrist will inevitably benefit our patients.

With this in mind, at Optegra Eye Health Care hospitals, we offer further education and training to community partners, and I am keen to see this expand and move forward in a broader sense. So far, our events have been well received and enjoyed by both the participants and the trainers. Though we do design and deliver our own events, we are also receptive to organizing bespoke events, led by the requests and needs of the optometrist. For example, we might have a community partner who is particularly interested in the changes and advances in the treatment and care of macular degeneration. Equally and importantly, the topics may not be disease oriented. Some optometrists have expressed a desire to work with ophthalmologists to understand how we can deliver better referrals. In giving the optometrist a clearer view of what happens to the patient from the point of referral to coming back to the community practice, they are better equipped to understand the concerns and questions the patient may raise, improving their whole experience and promoting a positive outcome. We do ensure our events, where possible, are accredited and offer CET points, but our ultimate goal is to ensure people come along, see the latest technology, experience the patient journey, and come away with a better understanding of how to work together for the clear benefit of the patient.

With the introduction of the new frameworks and pathways mentioned earlier, the relationship of the optometrist with secondary care is becoming more involved.

I also firmly believe the interactions resulting from such gatherings foster stronger and more effective inter-professional relationships. To me this is very important. In everyday practice, we see names and practice locations on referral forms or records, but healthcare professionals don’t always have the opportunity to discuss things in person. Our events facilitate this – and it leads to a closer and more open relationship.

With the roll out of national frameworks, including the national cataract pathways and, in the future, glaucoma and other sub-specialties, it is becoming increasingly important that we develop and foster a closer professional interaction between primary and secondary healthcare.

With this in mind, Optegra has developed specific partnerships with community optometrist networks. These start at the very beginning, with events run for trainee optometrists at university. For example, for a number of years now we have been running weekend educational events for final-year optometrists studying in Manchester and Aston. We spend the weekend with these students, running workshops where they practice their communication skills, become familiar with different diagnostic techniques and equipment and analyzing clinical case-scenarios. Importantly, we also introduce the patient journey from the referral process and discuss the importance of informing the patient of the different choices they have during that process. We promote good-quality conversational techniques to ensure the patient is properly informed and able to make an appropriate, decision about their health care options. We discuss what happens after the optometrist has made a referral. This provides the student with a far deeper understanding of how the patient experiences their treatment, the impact and effect it may have on them and offers tools that the optometrist can use when discussing treatment options with a new patient. These experiences ultimately reassure the patient and provide a far better standard of care.

Once they have their degree, they spend a year as pre-registration optometrists. During this year they are required to undertake additional training. We have become involved with this and are again providing weekend events that include lecture programs given by consultant ophthalmologists alongside more practical sessions. Vision Express, a large optical retailer, sends all of its pre-registration optometrists to us for such training. For the more experienced optometrist, we host training and accreditation events that can also have practical aspects to them. Boots Opticians holds an annual CET meeting which we typically support by providing lectures and peer discussion sessions led by our Consultant partners on various ophthalmology topics – and they are always well received.

With the introduction of the new frameworks and pathways mentioned earlier, the relationship of the optometrist with secondary care is becoming more integrated. This relationship has been in existence in some parts of the UK for some time now and we see that they work extremely well.

We are committed to continuing to deepen the relationship between the ophthalmologist and the optometrist, and to support further education and development. Not only do we work with community optometrists, but we also interact with organizations responsible for designing educational content and accreditation frameworks such as WOPEC. Why? Because we firmly believe in delivering appropriate care in the community is not just appropriate, but hugely beneficial to the welfare of the patient.

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About the Author
Clare O'Donnell

Registered optometrist with over 20 years’ experience. She is Honorary Senior Lecturer at University of Manchester and Head of Eye Sciences at Optegra, UK.

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