The fourth northern European series of Specsavers Clinical Conferences (SCC) took place from 6 to 12 October 2018 across five countries. Specsavers Northern Europe Head of Professional Advancement Trine Johnsen outlines the recurring themes that ran throughout this year’s program.

It is fantastic to see how the conference has evolved over the last nine years. Starting as a single conference in Norway with around 250 delegates, it now includes record numbers of 2,500 professionals from five countries – Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Norway.

As the conferences are open to optical dispensers, audiologists, optometry students and teachers, and optometrists from across the whole industry, it is the biggest optometry conference in the Northern Europe region and offers valuable knowledge and professional development opportunities to the whole optical industry. The overall aim of the conference, and the main reason we open the conference up to the entire professional community in Northern Europe, is our strong belief that continuous education, knowledge sharing and skills development benefits everyone – most importantly, our optometry patients and hearcare clients.

As Specsavers optometrists, we strongly believe that optometrists can, and should, play a key role in reducing avoidable blindness and optimising vision in our communities. However, in many countries, optometry is still required to prove to other healthcare professionals, patients and other key stakeholders that we deliver consistent, high-quality, and truly necessary services. This year, the SCC agenda focussed on some key topics that will help us on our journey towards making that difference, such as healthcare communication, how systemic medication can influence sight test outcomes, and myopia management.

The first lecture to kick off all five conferences was presented by Melbourne-based Specsavers Professional Services Advancement Director Professor Harrison Weisinger, who spoke about why it is important for optometry to engage with GPs. Given 2-3% of all patients seen by GPs have eye-related problems, the optometry profession is ideally positioned to alleviate the pressure on GPs and improve patient care. Prof Weisinger spoke about the methodologies that Specsavers has implemented in the Australia and New Zealand region to address this issue, and what has been learned as a result, providing some great tips and important knowledge in the area.

A number of healthcare communication experts presented on the key skills needed when communicating with patients and other healthcare professionals. As optometry in Northern Europe is starting to become more central to primary eye care for patients, improving these communication skills within our profession serves two main purposes: it will help when engaging with other healthcare professionals, and it will have significant effects on the wellbeing of patients and the outcome of medical intervention.

As our main communication channel into medicine is through the referral letter, some countries’ conference programs included presentations on best practice for writing referrals to GPs and ophthalmology. Key learnings included keeping the referral short and precise, describing the problem clearly, and adding only necessary information.

Another important topic discussed in most of the conferences was the impact systemic medication can have on eye examinations. One part of performing a good eye health assessment is understanding all aspects of a patient’s health, including their use of medication. This lecture focussed on how both commonly known and less commonly known medications can affect the results of an eye examination, and educated delegates on possible side effects. This was designed to enable optometrists to advise patients on interventions and create better follow-up plans.

Two other lectures that did the SCC tour this year were delivered by Australian optometrist Kate Gifford and UK-based Professor of Optometry Phil Morgan. Kate Gifford, who specialises in myopia and myopia control, talked about the latest research in this area as well as the supporting evidence base.

Phil Morgan delivered an educational presentation on contact lens drop-outs. Five archetypes of drop-outs were described in terms of symptoms, reasons and actions. Delegates gained insight and information that could easily be implemented in everyday clinical work.