What is good for us?

Optometrists are well placed to support patients with a message reiterating the importance of taking their eye health seriously, writes AOP chief executive Henrietta Alderman

Woman's blue eye

There are stories about health breakthroughs in the media every few days, as you will know if you subscribe to the AOP’s Eyes in the News forum posts. The media picks such stories up, confident that their readers will be interested.

Do you enthusiastically read the latest in lifestyle information and scientific health breakthroughs and then not act on them? Knowing what is good for us is one thing; doing it is another. People often have to hear the same message several times from different respected advisers – for example on smoking cessation. Optometrists can and should lead in highlighting the evidence on links between a healthy lifestyle and good eye heath.

During a consultation with a patient, optometrists will naturally ask questions relating to lifestyle. And during a sight test, underlying conditions can be detected which may not have been previously diagnosed. In addition to having the necessary credibility, optometrists have valuable face-to-face time to focus on the health of the eyes. They have the ability to flag potential risks to eyesight from lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet. There is no shortage of views on diet or what constitutes a healthy one. However, the general principles of a Mediterranean style diet with lots of fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains would be difficult to argue against and some of these are particularly beneficial for healthy eyes.

For those who want to take the healthy living advice further, the template has been set in Dudley by the Healthy Living Optical Practice. The scheme is currently being rolled out in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and has been integrated into the MECS contract in Greater Manchester. These schemes offer additional NHS health checks and advice such as smoking cessation, alcohol screening and weight management. This is another way of ensuring the optometrist practice relieves pressure on GP surgeries, giving an excellent service to patients in the community and adding to the practice bottom line.

The AOP backs up the messages you give in your practice with its national campaigns. One of the strong outcomes from our 2018 member benefits survey was a wish for the AOP to continue to promote the value of optometrists within the media and to decision makers. During 2018 we ran successful campaigns on driving (Don’t swerve a sight test) and children (the A B See campaign). Both of these were generated from the information gained from you in response to our Voice of Optometry survey. The results of these surveys are distilled into campaigns to both raise the profile of the profession and to bring about change. The 2019 Voice of Optometry survey has been focused on lifestyle and a campaign will be built on the back of it. We also continue to support National Eye Health Week in September, which will build on the theme of last year of encouraging people to understand that their vision matters and what they can do about it.

The AOP supports our members in their expanding roles with our insurance and legal cover and clinical advice. We are also concerned to ensure that our members keep themselves healthy in every sense, physically and mentally, and that includes ensuring that all our support elements are known, such as our guide to creating a healthy, low-stress optical practice and our Peer Support Line. In the two years since the line was introduced, call volumes have increased consistently, and employment and stress are the most often cited issues of concern. Please help your colleagues by ensuring that they are aware that the support line is there for them.

For more on the AOP's Eyes in the News updates, visit the community forum

Image credit: Getty/Jonathan Storey