An acceleration in meeting patient needs

Innovations in products and practice have been on the agenda this week following the BCLA’s Virtual Clinical Conference


This week I feel I have been rather immersed in the world of contact lenses, following the British Contact Lens Association’s (BCLA) Virtual Clinical Conference, a near 30-hour live-stream of presentations covering key topics in contact lenses and anterior eye. (I will be the first to admit to not attempting the full 30 hours, though my admiration goes to those who did).

Alongside sessions covering those key areas like dry eye management and myopia, there was a sense of innovation and looking ahead to the future of practice, through virtual clinic tours, product presentations and sessions from the Contact Lens Evidence-based Academic Reports (CLEAR) initiative. This included an overview of the potential applications of contact lenses ahead of us in the future.

Introducing the event, BCLA president, Indie Grewal, shared: “It’s a really exciting time to be in the contact lens industry, an exciting time for products coming forward.”

We have gained a sense of this, particularly over the past week of course, through updates such as Johnson & Johnson Vision’s UK release of its Acuvue Oasys Multifocal with Pupil Optimised Design, but over the past few months too – with a series of announcements from manufacturers gaining regulatory approvals for new innovations, or forming partnerships and acquisitions.

Earlier this month we saw the release of the Association of Contact Lens Manufacturer’s 2021 contact lens yearbook, while this week we celebrated the International Association of Contact Lens Educators (IACLE)’s Contact Lens Educators for 2021, with Dr Byki Huntjens, of City, University of London, awarded the title for IACLE Europe/Africa – Middle East.

And for our What I have learned feature series, we spoke with the team behind Alcon’s AR patient support programme about engaging contact lens trialists in an immersive ‘one-stop shop’ of information, myth-busting and education.

Speaking with OT following the BCLA conference, Alcon Global Vision Care president and general manager, Andy Pawson, reflected on the past year: “It’s been fascinating seeing how innovation has accelerated how optometry serves a patient.”

Discussing the growth of technologies like telemedicine tools, he highlighted how practices have adjusted to meet patient needs and make services accessible, whilst maintaining the eye care professional’s critical role at the centre.

This was a common thread between several clinic tours and discussions during the conference, beginning with Dr Keyur Patel, optometrist and recently-awarded BCLA dry eye practitioner of the year, who gave attendees a virtual tour of his dry eye clinic and touched on the role that telemedicine has played in his pre-appointment consultations. Discussing the benefits, he shared: “It allows us to build a rapport with the patient… And we found that patients like it.”

Therapeutic optometrist and clinical lead for a group of independent practices in the Bristol area, Rebecca Donnelly, talked conference attendees through her experience of using a remote consultation software in practice, and the range of ways she has found to use this.

Seeing it as a long-term solution, she said: “I believe that remote care is here to stay, but we need to adopt it safely and appropriately to improve patient experience, workplace efficiency and access to expert care.” Donnelly highlighted the value further guidance, as well as research, would bring for remote consultation practice and decision making.

Beyond the realm of contact lenses, the role of virtual consultations in practice was also explored recently in a discussion hosted by OT and SpaMedica, with practitioners highlighting the benefits this has brought, as well as some of the challenges.

During the discussion, Joanne Tutt, senior optometrist and clinical lead of The Eye Collective, a small group of practices in Birmingham, and optometrist at Walsall Manor Hospital, and David Brett Williams, optometrist, clinical lead and JVP of Specsavers Luton, shared their learnings, how they have adapted their systems over time, and how they have operated within pathways such as the COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES).

Considering what might be next, Tutt suggested the future may see a balance that “uses virtual consults to enable more patient touchpoints,” sharing that, as a company, “we decided remote consultations are really here to stay.”

This will be a topic that we will no doubt revisit time and again, as the country moves towards the lifting of those final lockdown restrictions – though delayed for a while longer, and we navigate what the ‘return to normal’ or even the ‘new normal’ will look like for practices. Keep an eye out for OT’s Big questions feature in the June/July issue and live on our website this weekend, assessing some of the other key challenges facing the profession in 2021.

For now though, the contact lens conversation continues with the BCLA’s Love your Lenses week running until 20 June – will you be encouraging patients its #TimeToTry?