“I saw this project as an excellent opportunity”
Third year optometry undergraduate at City, University of London, Brooke Hutchins, and optometrist and professional education and development manager for the UK and Ireland at Johnson & Johnson, Sheetal Patel, discuss carrying out research as part of STEP Educational Project
What did you explore with your research project?
Brooke Hutchins (BH): I set out to explore what patient attitudes are to presbyopia and find out what their attitudes are to the methods with which it can be visually corrected. I placed a focus on contact lens correction, particularly multifocal contact lenses and presbyopia. My study also explored patients’ current knowledge of presbyopia and what their preferred methods of refractive correction are. I wanted to establish what factors influence their preferences in order to inform optometrists and to better tailor their services for presbyopic patients.
How did you collect data?
BH: Due to the nature of my project, the data I collected was focus group-based. It involved five groups with four to seven participants in each session. There were 24 presbyopes included in my study. The data was analysed and organised into five primary themes. I also collected data from online questionnaires prior to the focus group sessions. This provided me with an overview of the demographic of the participants in regard to their vision correction.
What were the main findings of the report?
BH: I found that 79% of participants indicated that comfort and convenience, both physically and visually, were the most important factors when considering correction for near distance. Cost was relatively less significant.
There were mixed opinions towards contact lenses in relation to correction for presbyopia; with a bias towards a more reluctant stance for most participants. They were negative comments about contact lens wear from 76% of participants. There was a clear consensus that presbyopic lens options were not well known about in comparison to reading glasses, varifocals and bifocals. The negative comments related to inconvenience, discomfort and risk to the health of the eye. Generally, participants were poorly informed about options and they didn’t want to place unnecessary risk on the eye if there were other viable options available.
There was a lack of familiarity with presbyopia with the exception of its relation to the ageing process, which was highlighted by 75% of participants. A further 65% had not heard of the term and were unsure what it meant.
I saw this project as an excellent opportunity to better understand the needs of presbyopic patients
How will this research inform your work when you become a qualified practitioner?
BH: I saw this project as an excellent opportunity to better understand the needs of presbyopic patients. I had some preconceived ideas such as cost being an important factor that would influence patients’ decisions, but comfort and convenience were more crucial to their experience. I also now realise that patients are more tentative towards contact lens care than I previously thought. I see this as an opportunity to enhance the provision of information around contact lens options, such as explaining correction options before presbyopia begins. When I see presbyopic patients in the future, I will consider all of these factors when thinking about the needs of the patient in front of me and whether or not I am discussing all of the options available with them.
Would you like to conduct more research during your career?
BH: Research is an area I would like to revisit later in my career if I get the opportunity. I’ve considered completing a PhD and exploring an area of optometry that I’ve found interesting during my pre-reg or year as a newly-qualified optometrist once I’ve seen a lot of patients. The Success Through Education Programme (STEP) Educational Project has given me a platform to build my knowledge of how to conduct research because I didn’t know much about it before.
I set out to explore what patient attitudes are to presbyopia and find out what their attitudes are to the methods with which it can be visually corrected
What is the STEP Educational Project?
Sheetal Patel (SP): The STEP Educational Project is an opportunity for students to engage with supervised research at their university. It is a research grant offering that is open to optometry students who are in their penultimate year of study. It is specifically targeted to those students so that they can carry out their projects in the summer before they start their final year of undergraduate study. We provide the grant to a maximum of two students each year. It is our way of supporting the next generation of optometrists so that they are providing excellent patient-centred eye care.
How can students get involved?
SP: The lead contact lens lecturer at the university will let students know when applications have opened for the project. Johnson & Johnson provides three or four topics that from our perspective have the most value in exploring. Students who are interested in submitting an application for one of those topics will outline what their proposal is, including their methodology and why they are the most suitable candidate to receive the grant. We have a committee that reviews the applications and chooses the research projects to support.
When did the project launch?
SP: It launched under STEP in 2015. We’ve supported seven students across a number of the UK’s university optometry departments, so far. Many of the students have had their findings published in trade journals in order to share their knowledge with the wider profession. A poster has previously been accepted at the British Contact Lens Association’s conference because the findings were so impactful.
It is our way of supporting the next generation of optometrists so that they are providing excellent patient-centred eye care
What are the main aims of the project?
SP: It aims to build evidence to help students’ understanding of a specific part of contact lenses or anterior eye fields, as well as allowing them to gain perspective when considering patient practice. It also helps promote research in terms of evidence-based practice.
How does providing research opportunities for students aid their career prospects?
SP: Providing this project grant is an opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in a research environment. It allows them to see that a career in research or academia is a viable option. Hopefully by giving a number of students a taster of what it’s like to conduct research, some of them might go on to carry out further research or start a PhD and become the future leaders of the profession.
What feedback have you received from students about the project?
SP: They’ve all provided positive feedback. The research process has changed their mindset and behaviours towards the area of study compared to their preconceived ideas before carrying out the project. It has influenced the way that they practise and provide patient care. It’s really challenged their thinking.