Healthy communities

Optical practices are branching out. Could yours join them?

taking pulse
Getty/Malte Mueller

Imagine an optical practice that offered its patients a tailored service, where those at risk of stroke could be monitored, advice on healthy eating, smoking or exercise could be given, and glaucoma patients could receive their treatment without having to travel to hospital.

It might seem ambitious that all these things could happen within what was once seen as a humble optical practice. But across the country, schemes are being set up to broaden the scope of what optometry can do to better protect the health of the patients the profession serves.

In recent weeks and months, as the OT team has increasingly found ourselves discussing the issue of shared care and how optical professionals can continue to best serve their communities, we’ve been hearing stories that suggest a vastly different offering from what the traditional brass plate practice might have once provided.

Take the High Street heroes profiled in our upcoming April/May edition, for example: Cardiff optometrist Clare Pearce, who learnt sign language to improve the practice experience for her deaf patients, or Shamina Asif, whose practice offers alcohol screening, help with weight management, smoking cessation, and NHS Health Checks.

As detailed in the edition, which will land with members from this weekend, Nottingham, Derbyshire, Manchester and Worcester now all benefit from the Healthy Living Optical Practices scheme, which Asif’s practice is part of. As she told us, with optometrists already likely to pick up signs of cardiovascular disease and other conditions, “it only makes sense to have public health commissioned services in optical practices too.”

Elsewhere, schemes such as the Glaucoma Award Training (NESGAT) programme in Scotland and a stroke prevention pilot, run through Cheshire Local Optical Committee, suggest an exciting future for the role of optometrists within their communities – both for patient health and for optometrists’ own professional development. You will be able to read about both of these schemes in our June/July edition, which focuses on shared care and how the profession can come together to solve the COVID-19-induced ophthalmology backlog.

Of course, all of this might be easier to discuss hypothetically than it would be to actually get up and running. Funding, always the thorn in the industry’s side, as well as time commitments and challenges on the path to commissioning, are all factors that are key to success, and ones that might not always present an easy ride. It’s very understandable that practice owners and managers might feel that their skills are best suited to focusing on the thing that they are specifically trained for: pure eye health, and the promotion of it.

However, while these opportunities might not work for every practice, taking inspiration from them and following how they develop can undoubtedly be beneficial. We must remember that many patients have comorbidities, and that eye conditions often go in line with other health issues. If small changes can be incorporated to screen for, or potentially treat, related conditions at the same time, healthier communities can start to be built and time can be saved elsewhere.

With so many practices struggling (due to deficiencies in the much-lambasted GOS fee, amongst other issues) taking on extra services might provide another revenue stream too. Keeping patients and customers in practice, upskilling to provide extra services, and increasing footfall, are all positives that the profession and those within it might want to consider.

So, could your practice benefit, in the same way those we’ve already mentioned have started to? Only individuals can answer that, with their own roles, practices, time constraints and available resources in mind. Transformation could be on the cards in the very near future, though, for those ambitious enough to see it.

OT  asks...

Would you consider branching out to offer services outside the remit of traditional optical practice?

  • I already do

    7 13%
  • Yes, although I don’t at the moment

    38 73%
  • I haven’t thought about it

    4 7%
  • No, it’s not for me

    3 5%