How do I…

Incorporate new research into my practice?

The AOP’s head of education, Dr Ian Beasley, explains how optometrists can approach new clinical research

data and graphs
Pexels/Anna Nekrashevich

As a busy practitioner, you may find it difficult to dedicate time to regularly trawl through peer-reviewed research papers alongside competing clinical commitments.

However, if you wish to explore a niche topic of interest, then using the advanced search function on PubMed can be a good place to start. The site provides abstracts of research papers along with some full articles available as open access. 

While many articles require payment or a subscription to view the full content, if you are a member of the College of Optometrists you can request an ‘OpenAthens’ account, which will make certain publications accessible. Using the search function on Google Scholar offers an alternative to PubMed.

Utilising research

Reading short abstracts of full research papers may not always deliver the user-friendly experience you are looking for. Another option is regularly reading continuing professional development (CPD) content in professional journals, such as Optometry Today, which can offer a more easily digestible approach, providing you with a broad understanding of the latest evidence base and, more importantly, relaying how these findings can translate into clinical practice.

How often you should consume new research depends on the specific clinical topic. There are some areas of practice that are evolving rapidly, for instance myopia management, whereas for others, such as binocular vision, the changes to the evidence base are more incremental.

You also need to consider your level of experience and current knowledge, and how this applies to your clinical role. This approach is at the heart of the General Optical Council’s new CPD scheme, where you should be tailoring your personal development plan (PDP) to consolidate and expand knowledge relative to your scope of practice, taking the opportunity to review this throughout the cycle and reflect periodically on the impact that changes to your role or to the clinical landscape have on your PDP.

Practical applications

There are lots of opportunities to stay up to date with evolving practice. Take time to read clinical articles, attend conferences and webinars, and network with your peers. Subscribing to social media channels of interest on key clinical areas can be a relatively passive way to stay informed on updates and developments. Naturally, it is important to separate opinion from fact when consuming content via this route.

Of course, suppliers will be eager to update you on products that have translated from research to reach the market. It is worthwhile scratching beneath the surface of the glossy brochure and considering the weight of evidence that sits behind the product on offer. Are the headline claims underpinned by systematic reviews, randomised controlled trials, or case control studies?

Whether you want to take research forward and embed it into your own practise depends upon the topic area and your level of prior knowledge and experience. If you read about developments in a particular clinical area, you should ask whether this can be delivered safely within your current skillset, or whether specific training is required. If the latter answer is true, there is a wealth of opportunity for you to expand your clinical skills with higher qualifications and accreditations from a range of optical institutions.

Patients will assume that decisions made about their care are based upon professional expertise. If there is a significant change to the way an ongoing condition should be managed, then it is reassuring to explain clearly in layman’s terms the basis for that decision.