Dispensing during Covid-19

Kim O’Donnell looks at how practitioners adapted their dispensing during the pandemic….

Change has happened so quickly in the last year, that we’ve barely had time to process all we are going through as a profession. We have had to adapt like never before so that we can continue delivering essential eye and health care services to our patients. I was fortunate to be able to reflect on these changes with colleagues during a recent online discussion workshop titled, ‘The art of dispensing during Covid-19’.

This CET session was held three times in October as part of Specsavers’ Professional Advancement Committee conference, providing 300 dispensing opticians the chance to verbalise some of these massive shifts – as well as discuss ongoing challenges and new ways of working. The online module let us consider some of the changes that our profession has embraced in a short time.

Whirlwind of change

I’m sure we all remember watching the news about global lockdowns earlier this year; a lockdown that inevitably reached the UK on 23 March. On 1 April, routine eyecare services were suspended and we moved towards urgent and essential eyecare.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) was then introduced for optical practice teams and social distance measures issued too. The development of remote care by telephone and video consultation was another shift and a great asset. It created a way for patients to reach us, and for us to deliver expertise in a virus-free environment.

At the same time, most High Street opticians accelerated their e-commerce services, enabling customers to buy glasses online. This was a good interim measure for some patients, but often the platform’s prescription and lens restrictions tended to disadvantage people who depended on their glasses the most.

On 15 June, GOS routine eye examinations recommenced with the addition of triage, PPE, social distancing and strict cleaning protocols. Again, this was a huge change for practices that run an open-door policy.

As dispensing opticians, we stayed close to our governing bodies during these uncertain times, avidly reading the statements that were issued across England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Clinicians were advised to use their clinical judgement and assess the risk to the patient of attending a practice, and the risk of issuing them with spectacles.

This meant that home deliveries or express collections had to be offered to more patients; people who were self- isolating or shielding. I saw our role as enabling vision to aid people’s quality of life in these extreme conditions.

Typical dispensing scenarios

‘The art of dispensing during Covid-19’ CET session was delivered on an online platform that enabled peer interaction, with a live presentation and structured discussions. This is another way in which our profession has adapted. We have created the opportunity for like-minded professionals to come together online to learn from each other and share best practice.

During the session, I presented three case studies that many clinicians will have faced over the last three months:

Case study 1

A patient calls your practice after returning from overseas. His lifestyle used to include driving for hours every day and dealing with clients face-to-face. Now he is using the laptop and Zoom meetings are his only client interactions. This new working regime makes his reading glasses useless.

Case study 2

The patient with broken glasses, high cyls and prism. He is not one of your patients but his practice is closed and he says that his glasses never quite feel right.

Case study 3

A doctor who does not want to attend practice and wears varifocals. The last pair of glasses was purchased online and the sight test prescription is four months’ out of date.

The colleague discussions in the breakout rooms uncovered the ways in which dispensing opticians have had to think outside the box to deliver care safely to patients during the pandemic. These were very different to how we may have operated in 2019. Back in the main room, we shared first-hand experiences and heard some great ideas.

Clinicians discussed the importance of completing triage. How they had delivered care over the telephone or video whilst the patient self-isolated, on occasions guiding the patient through the technology before being able to commence the appointment. The importance of making notes and the communication skills for telephone and digital screen consultations. Visual solutions such as occupational lenses or interim pairs of single vision glasses being dispensed, previous dispenses repeated. We heard stories of clinicians donning PPE to make a visit in an emergency. Doorstep or garden deliveries, and opticians helping each other out to get those emergency glasses glazed.

This did not feel like a ‘normal’ CET session – but a session that came at the right time. It was cathartic to bond with my fellow professionals in this time of uncertainty. To be able to get everybody together in this way offers great reassurance and confidence to people who may be feeling alone when they are making care decisions in challenging times. I am proud to have been part of it.

Kimberley O’Donnell FBDO is an ABDO local lead in the Midlands, and the senior ophthalmic lens and dispensing portfolio manager for Specsavers UK, Ireland and Spain.

This interview first appeared in Dispensing Optics magazine.

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