Practice team digest

Through a child’s eyes

Optometrist and director of Pullen & Symes Opticians, Emma Hill, discusses the role that the whole team can play in welcoming children into practice

A young girl is sitting in an optical practice, opposite a woman with short blonde hair.
Hakim Group

For Pullen & Symes Opticians, a Hakim Group independent practice with branches in Exeter and Ottery, providing a safe and welcoming environment for young patients attending a sight test is important to the whole practice team.

It helps to ensure that children, and their parents, feel comfortable attending for their first eye examination from a young age, optometrist and director, Emma Hill, told OT.

Clinically, Hill highlighted the importance of children having their sight tested. “As all clinicians are aware, it is vitally important to see our young patients as early as possible in order to detect any binocular or prescribing issue – we have more chance of correction success if we treat early,” she said.

“If we have the parents’ trust, we often see all the family coming into practice and it’s lovely to look after family’s long term and get to know them,” she added.

Young child wearing a pink jacket and black sunglasses in the testing room. She is sitting opposite an optometrist with short blonde hair.
Hakim Group
Optometrist and director of Pullen & Symes Opticians, Emma Hill, with a young patient

The whole practice team

Hill told OT that all her team, both clinical and front of house, have a role to play in each young patient’s eye care journey.

Starting before the patient enters practice, Hill and her team has processes in place to ensure they are as prepared as possible for their young patients. This begins when the appointment is made.

When booking an eye exam for a young patient, Hill said: “We always check with the family for any relevant history and symptoms, as well as if the patient has any specific learning difficulties, so we can be as prepared as we can.”

She explained that collecting this information at the time the appointment is made also ensures that the team can allocate the correct amount of time for the patient, “extended testing time if it is needed.”

All of our staff are welcoming and make young children feel at ease whatever their personality

Ahead of a practice visit, Hill’s team encourages parents to show their children a cartoon character or video of someone having a sight test. The optometrist highlighted that an example that is a favourite is an episode of Peppa Pig in which the lead character Peppa visits an opticians.

She explained: “This helps children become excited rather than apprehensive about the eye exam.”

Young patients are also encouraged to bring their favourite toy or teddy with them if they have one. “We can use this as a prop to show the child what we are going to do. For example, I may pop the trial frame on the toy first.” Hill added.

When a young patient enters practice, Hill and her team has developed a child-friendly waiting area, where they can play, colour and read. This is designed to put children at ease.

“All of our staff are welcoming and make young children feel at ease whatever their personality,” Hill said, adding: “Our child-friendly waiting area has a playbox for very young children, colouring sheets and books, while reward stickers for all ages after the eye exam supports this.”

At the end of their eye care journey, children are rewarded with stickers to reinforce their success.

Hill encourages all practices welcoming children to consider a child-friendly area “if they have space,” highlighting the positive impact she has seen for both patients and their parents.

“Having an area, if you have the space, that you can fill with a few toys or books for children to use while waiting puts young patients at ease. It also often eases the stress for the parents if they don’t have to amuse them while waiting to go into the test room.”

Hill shared that in her practice, this area is situated away from the main hub of the practice, which she has found to work well to “keep the environment calm.”

“It’s a good idea to have posters of cartoon characters up [in this area], and some animals and cuddly toys with glasses on,” she added.

Most members of the practice team at Pullen & Symes have children and grandchildren of their own, Hill shared, which helps them relate to and put themselves in both the young patient’s and the parent’s shoes.

Small communication gestures delivered by the practice team, such as a smile, and asking about a toy they are carrying or a character on their t-shirt, can help children feel at ease, Hill said.

I keep the test as simple as possible and always explain what I am about to do


Adapting routine

When in the testing room, as an optometrist, Hill has adapted her sight test routine to better meet the needs of young patients.

Before she starts the sight test, Hill works to ensure that the child is comfortable and confident, reassuring them when required that “nothing is going to hurt.”

“I ask if they would rather sit on their parent’s knee and often feel it’s easier for parents to cover each eye for the visual acuity test using pictures for younger patients,” she added.

Hill speaks directly to the child and tries to learn about their interests.

“I ask them how old they are, and about any favourite programmes, sport or subjects at school, before asking them about their eyes,” she said, adding: “I keep the test as simple as possible and always explain what I am about to do. I always ask permission to put the trial frame on and I show the retinoscope light on their knee or toy's eyes before performing this.”

For Hill, she never ‘pushes,’ explaining that she would rather “gain their trust rather than force a test.”

Hill’s top three tips for performing a sight test on a child are: “Be friendly, patient and explain things as you go along with a smile.”