Blog: Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone

Judy Lea discovers how using everyday technology effectively can help us connect with colleagues beyond our store and our specialism.

The recent change of weather from Arctic conditions to full-on signs of Spring got me thinking about change and how we all have to adapt to the current climate, or be left out in the cold.

Technology is a perfect example of this. Always evolving so fast that most of us only become aware of the ‘latest’ innovation once it actually becomes common-place. But once we do experience the benefits of a particular bit of tech, we can’t imagine how we coped without it. So, while I’m still unsure whether the ‘snow setting’ on my car really helped me much in the recent inclement weather, I wouldn’t want to be without my WhatsApp for example – not least because it’s recently helped me to reconnect with my fellow Bradford optometry graduates!

‘Change can have many advantages in our working lives too. Over the last couple of months, our practice has been piloting a new e-referral system with the local hospital and a forward-thinking ophthalmologist there.’

Change can have many advantages in our working lives too. Over the last couple of months, our practice has been piloting a new e-referral system with the local hospital and a forward-thinking ophthalmologist there. It involves populating a form with the usual referral information and, using NHS.net email accounts, sending it with any field plots, retinal photos and other relevant information. The consultant is then able to remotely assess the patient and feedback to the referring optometrist immediately.

Some of these patients don’t require a trip to the already overstretched hospital department, which saves everyone’s time and money. Those that do need a consultant opinion can be directed to the most appropriate clinic and consultant straightaway, rather than undergo an initial appointment and have to be re-booked at a later date at the clinic with the correct speciality – freeing up appointment availability generally. This means appointments are more readily available when needed and, as a ‘remote, virtual clinic’ more patients can be ‘seen’ than if they all were booked initial assessment appointments.

The patient receives a letter within days from the hospital informing them of the outcome and the referring optometrist receives an email feeding back on diagnosis and management within 48 hours, rather than (if we are lucky) getting a copy of a hospital letter many months later. Knowing a diagnosis, whilst the case is fresh in our minds, is great for our clinical development as optometrists, helping to hone our referral skills for the future. And getting our OCT in the next few months will refine the process even further.

So far, the feedback from everyone has been nothing but positive and there have been no blips in the system. The patients love it as they feel they are being looked after as individuals, rather than a number in the system. The optometrists feel much more confident in their decision-making and know that referrals have been received and acted on, with immediate feedback for those unusual cases that don’t quite follow a usual textbook appearance. The ophthalmologists are able to make much better decisions with the extra information they are receiving from us – and are (slightly) less overstretched in their clinics.

As a result, we are all hoping that it can continue and be rolled out further across our region.

It’s certainly made me think about all our practice systems and how we might look at completing a full ‘spring clean’ to ensure we are using all developments at our disposal to our and our patients’ advantage.

Within Specsavers, we have also been trialling an online network for securely uploading fundus images and OCT plots onto a professional platform for peer-to-peer discussion with our colleagues in other stores. It’s been received eagerly by the optometrists involved in the trial (and requested by those who aren’t) as there’s a learning benefit to sharing knowledge with colleagues, whether you’re a proactive participant or a background voyeur.

‘When we left with our degree certificates, mobile phones weren’t even a consideration. Now we’re not only using our phones to reconnect with our peers socially… but also to connect with colleagues on a professional level.’

It’s something our Bradford Class of ’86 could never have even envisaged. When we left with our degree certificates, mobile phones weren’t even a consideration. Now we’re not only using our phones to reconnect with our peers socially (and if you are one of the five from our year that we have yet to find, we are still looking for you!), but also to connect with colleagues on a professional level to make our working practices even better and more efficient. Who knows how things will have changed in our practices even further in 10 or 20 years’ time?

 Judy Lea is optometrist director of Specsavers Longton.

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