Optometrists need to build awareness of their scope of practice among the public, and one of the best ways they can do this is by building relationships with General Practitioners (GPs), says Terri Smith, CEO of the Optometrists Association Victoria.
“Optometry is a very small profession within the allied health professions and our members are doing an excellent job, but they’re very humble when it comes to promoting the full extent of their expertise to other members of the health industry. Consequently there’s a lack of understanding among health care workers about exactly what optometrists do,” she said. “I doubt many GPs are aware of just how many optometrists are therapeutically endorsed, for example.”
Andrew McKinnon, CEO of the OAA in NSW says GPs are more likely to refer a patient to an ophthalmologist than an optometrist. “GPs tend to only think of ophthalmologists when they think of the eye. So we need to lift their understanding of how optometrists can contribute to the management of their patients… We need to get the message through to them, why not use an optometrist – we’re more accessible and cost less, and we will get back to the GP with details of what we’ve found and if need be, we’ll advise of the need to refer on,” he said.
Make an Appointment
Forging closer relationships with GPs in an effort to boost awareness of optometrists’ scope of practice and increase referrals is one of the OAA Vic’s main objectives this year. “Optometrists should take every opportunity to have thorough conversations with GPs in their local area about the work they do. Pick up the phone and make an appointment to see them, or, if a GP comes in as a patient, take time during the consultation to thoroughly explain your work.”
He put an A-frame outside his front door that quite simply said ‘We do Eye Tests’. He was swamped. Prior to the sign, people just thought he sold glasses…
Ms. Smith encourages optometrists to send a report, for every consultation, to the patient’s doctor. “GPs have grown up with a system that says ‘put it all in writing, refer, and receive a report back’ that’s the way they work, and we have the technology to do this for them very easily. GPs have told me, if you write to them, they’ll write (or refer) to you, it’s a case of being at the forefront of mind.”
This is something Eyecare Plus has been working on for some time. “We’ve always encouraged our optometrists to work closely with GPs and we’ve printed GP referral pads and optometrist’s referral pads for GPs, which are very useful tools. But it comes down to getting to know each other and building trusted relationships,” said Michael Jacobs, CEO of Eyecare Plus. “GPs often have heavy workloads and if they can unload some of that eye related work to a trusted optometrist, they will.”
But it’s not only GPs who have a lot to learn about the work of an optometrist. According to Mr. Jacobs, the public is ill informed about the scope of optometrists’ work as well. “Recently we heard from one of our members, based in Toowoomba. He is surrounded by competition – five stores within a stone’s throw of his. He put an A-frame outside his front door that quite simply said ‘We do Eye Tests’. He was swamped. Prior to the sign, people just thought he sold glasses.
“That’s not so surprising given that 80 per cent of our business is in retail. If you look at any practice, the front window is all retail and the consultancy is tucked out the back where it can’t be seen. The public needs to be made more aware of what we really do for eye health – optometry as a profession needs more recognition.”
New RVEEH Guidelines will Drive Change
Ms. Smith said in Victoria, a decision by the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital (RVEEH) to update its referral practices and Primary Care Guidelines will push more members of the public into optometry practices and drive optometrists to initiate and / or strengthen working relationships with GPs in their area.
The update aims to ensure only those who really need to be seen at the hospital, are directed that way. Additionally, patients who are referred will be expected to arrive with appropriate clinical information from their GP and/or optometrist.
“To achieve this, optometrists will need to work more closely with GPs to complete referral information for admission to the emergency department and also to the hospital’s 15 specialist eye clinics,” said Ms. Smith.