A new professional development program facilitated by Specsavers and RANZCO has shown that ophthalmology-led education and feedback on optometry referrals can result in a significant, measurable improvement in patient outcomes.

The notable results, which provide further evidence of the value of collaboration between optometry and ophthalmology, emerged during the second Ophthalmologist Local Education and Engagement Program (OLEEP) session held on 20 February at the Eyes First ophthalmology clinic in Springvale, Melbourne.

OLEEP connects optometrists with local RANZCO ophthalmologists, who deliver interactive sessions that include training and education on detection and management, as well as direct feedback on the optometrists’ referrals and diagnoses. This feedback is designed to improve the consistency and quality of referrals with a view to enhancing patient outcomes.

In the first pilot OLEEP session in June 2018, attending Specsavers optometrists were given targeted and interactive training on glaucoma as well as education on diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration by Eyes First ophthalmologists Dr Tu Tran and Dr Elaine Chong, with reference to the optometrists’ individual professional benchmark summaries. They were then recommended to apply their learnings to daily practice while continuing discussions in their clinical team meetings.

Since then, referral data from the stores whose optometrists attended the first session has shown an increase from 4.5% to 5.8% in total average referral rates, which indicates the group is detecting more pathology and at a rate that is more closely aligned with expected prevalence-based benchmarks. The stores’ average glaucoma referral rates also increased from 1.1% to 1.4% of all patients in just over 14 weeks, and there has been less variability in referral rates between optometrists in the same store.

Commenting on the results, Optometry Development Consultant Dr Joseph Paul, PhD, said, “OLEEP is a first-of-its-kind CPD program designed to deliver measurable improvements in patient outcomes. After only one session, we have already seen a significant, positive change. This underscores the value of having ophthalmologists impart their clinical wisdom to help optometrists improve their referral practices. It also shows the impact optometrists can have on patient outcomes when they are equipped with clinical data that allows them to reflect on and self-manage their clinical practice. The combination of these strategies will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for patients.”

In addition to a discussion about the positive change in referral patterns, the second OLEEP session included further education, training and feedback from Drs Chong and Tran. Dr Chong led a case-based discussion of diabetic retinopathy management and used examples to illustrate the RANZCO referral guidelines and how to manage cases that may be an exception to the criteria. Dr Tran’s case discussions focussed on structural and functional assessment of the optic nerve in glaucoma, linking OCT and visual field results to aid diagnosis and management. Both ophthalmologists shared their insights on which patients to refer and when.

Further OLEEP events are being planned across Australia and New Zealand in the coming months.