Nearly 50 years ago a product was invented that’s changed how people see, improved their quality of life, and even increased their lifespan.
Progressive Addition Lenses (PALs) provide an advanced vision correction option, avoiding the sharp changes of focus offered by bifocals. Essilor pioneered the technology in1959 with Varilux, a brand that remains the world leader.
“Virtually everyone over the age of 45 needs glasses for reading, and their choice of spectacle lenses will have a large effect on their lifestyle,” says Tim Thurn, Director of Professional Services, Essilor Asia Pacific Headquarters.
“If our sight is as normal as possible, then our activities will also be normal. Progressive lenses enable people as they age to maintain their favourite activities and hobbies. There is evidence that this enhances their quality of life, keeps them active, which in turn, extends their lifespan.
“Spectacle lenses continue to become more sophisticated, which means the markets require more skilled people to prescribe them.:
“Some people even go so far as to say that bifocals are a community health hazard. Approximately 50,000 Americans a year have accidents on stairs or escalators because they are wearing bifocals. This in itself doesn’t sound so bad, except that older people who break a leg or a hip, lose mobility and their life expectancy is reduced by at least five years.”
Encroaching Asia Pacific
Less than one per cent of presbyopes in Asia Pacific are experiencing the benefits of wearing PALs. Increased technological development in Asia Pacific and the ageing employed population means demand for this technology is increasing, and while there was a great deal of interest amongst practitioners in new technology, ten years ago a general shortage of skills limited the use of PALs.
Recognising this need led, in 1998, to a unique partnership between the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE) and Essilor, the world’s largest manufacturer of spectacle lenses, aimed at accelerating the successful uptake of advanced lens technology in the Asia Pacific region.
Ten years later more than 10,000 practitioners and 1,000 educators have been taught by ICEE to provide the best and latest care, first via the Presbyopia Education Program (PEP) and now through the Varilux Academy Asia Pacific (VAAP) practitioner program and the Varilux Academy Educator Initiative (VAEI) educator training programs. The training is conducted in Australia and New Zealand and throughout Asia, including China, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. In 2009, the region will expand to incorporate the Middle East and English-speaking Africa.
“Cultural diversity; professional qualifications ranging from none at all to university level; distance; languages and dialects; plus limited time and resources are all factors that, at first, make delivering such training programs in Asia Pacific a little daunting. But in spite of the diverse nature of the region, one factor unites all of the countries – the need for the practitioners to understand and be confident in the techniques and knowledge required for today’s sophisticated products,” said Mr Thurn.
Bernard Maitenaz invented the first Varilux progressive lens in 1959 and practitioner education has been a key factor in the product’s success. While other manufacturers have also taken on the technology, with more than 70 different brands available today, half of all progressive lenses sold are still Varilux. Linking the continuous shifts in progressive lens technology with innovative education is a logical fit. The ICEE professional education team frequently consults with Essilor’s research and development scientists to keep the program content up to date.
The lens design and technology of PALs means these lenses must be prescribed and fitted accurately by skilled eye care practitioners, to ensure the wearers receive all the benefits sought by the lens designers, such as comfortable, clear vision and enhanced task performance at various distances.
Tailor Made Courses
The Varilux Academy focuses on improving the quality of life for presbyopes by developing the capacity of local educators, practitioners and industry staff to manage presbyopia, including enabling them to confidently fit PALs.
The Varilux programs are tailored for each location, taking into account cultural and economic environments as well as audience expertise. The materials are also tailored for both developed and developing markets to up-skill both experienced practitioners and novices alike. “Flexibility is needed not only in how the program is delivered but also in its content – a New Zealand optometrist with four years university training and many hours of compulsory continuing education, has different needs and expectations to a self-taught practitioner in a developing country,” said Craig Butler, ICEE Professional Education Team.
“To encompass the practitioner types, the course is broken into optional modules covering basic to advanced technical subjects. The 29 modules now available include everything from how to correctly fit a progressive lens, to calculating the refractive index, case studies, and technology updates.”
In addition to teaching clinical skills, Varilux Academy programs include communication, psychology and sales skills for improved patient management. The programs offer small group participation with hands-on practical workshops, humorous role plays, and demonstration tools to give participants a realistic experience of what it is like to be a PAL-wearing presbyope.
The most important aspect of the programs is the training of local presenters.
“The demand for education in Asia Pacific is so great that the Varilux Academy could be presented every day of the year and it would only slightly ease the demand. ICEE plays the vital role of ‘training the trainers’ which is a key feature of sustainable eye care,” said Mr. Butler.
“We train local Essilor staff, practitioners or educators as Certified Presenters, so the education can continue when the ICEE team has gone home. So far, we have certified more than 60 local presenters in 12 countries, and in turn they have trained an additional 15,000 practitioners. Thus we are seeing exponential growth in the impact of education which improves the eyecare options for the region.”
ICEE have translated program materials to allow local presenters to conduct the program in their preferred language, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil, Bengali, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese and English.
To further the sustainable aspect of the Varilux program, ICEE assessed curricula in a sample of Asia Pacific universities and colleges and found they often lacked current information about PAL technology. ICEE developed education materials to address this problem plus an Educator Training Program for local teachers. The materials are designed to be easily included in any undergraduate ophthalmic, optometric or technical education program and they are now used in more than 45 institutions. The institutions have also welcomed the ‘Virtual Refractor’, an elegant software package developed by ICEE that teaches students refraction from first principles.
The endorsement of ICEE education programs by Essilor subsidiary managers in each country has been important in achieving VAAP and VAEI objectives. This includes following up practitioners, educators and undergraduates, and supporting them to implement the best practices for managing presbyopia. “The program has been going for ten years, and we anticipate it will keep going for ten more. Most importantly, by training local educators we know that its impact will continue to be felt in the future,” said Mr. Butler.
“Spectacle lenses continue to become more sophisticated, which means the markets require more skilled people to prescribe them. Through the Varilux Academy, ICEE and Essilor will continue to train both practitioners and educators, enhancing the eye care services available to their communities.”
This article has been authored by Kylie Evans, on behalf of the Varilux Academy Steering Committee. The Varilux Academy is a joint venture funded by Essilor and delivered by the International Centre for Eyecare Education (ICEE)