Technology is constantly changing the way that optometrists can liaise and consult with patients, never more so than during the current pandemic.
Optometrists from Specsavers Alloa and Consultant Ophthalmologist at NHS Forth Valley, Dr Iain Livingstone have been working on bringing teleopthalmology to the Clackmannanshire and Forth Valley communities for the past two years.
Clinically challenging cases can often require not only an optometrist but also a specialist opinion like Dr Livingstone’s to correctly diagnose potentially serious eye conditions.
The solution which Dr Livingstone proposed to optometrists John Keenan and Jennifer Marshall from the Specsavers Alloa branch on High Street, was video consulting technology working with a digital slit lamp or an OCT machine and Near Me software.
The technology has been developed with Scottish Government funding, as part of the Technology Enabled Care programme for the NHS, in a collaboration by Dr Livingstone, the Scottish Government, which leads the programme, and Dr Mario Giardini at the Department of Biomedical Engineering of the University of Strathclyde, who supervised the device development and design aspects.
Lynne Sangster, store director of Specsavers Alloa, said: 'The system is now an active service not only in Specsavers but in other opticians across the country.
'Our optometrists have worked incredibly hard to perfect it and I am proud that we were a pivotal part of mainstreaming this much-needed technology.'
Dr Iain Livingstone, said: 'What is fantastic about what we have achieved is that we can have a consultation and diagnose a patient through a three-way call without the patient even leaving their home.
'It is invaluable, especially at a time like this, to allow us to continue to treat patients whilst they remain at home and we are in our workplaces, practicing social distancing, ultimately minimising travel and avoiding any crowded clinics.
'Without the hard work and dedication of Specsavers Alloa, and specifically John Keenan, we may not be where we are now. They were pivotal in bringing this to the forefront of optometry in Scotland.'
Dr Giardini said: 'I am delighted to see this system, originally developed for hospital A&E departments, being rolled out as part of the COVID-19 response throughout the country. Access to quality healthcare is a fundamental human right.
'Telemedicine will become increasingly important throughout the next months and years, well beyond the COVID-19 crisis, as a critical and key element of healthcare equality and sustainability.
'Strathclyde has been working in collaboration with the NHS, both to develop devices for the system, and in an advisory role on the hardware side of the project.
'The results clearly underline the world-changing possibilities enabled by an open and collaborative approach between technology research, doctors, policymakers, and healthcare infrastructure.'
As teleopthalmology has been rolled out across parts of Scotland, there have now been hundreds of video calls.
Most recently, patient William Gardiner contacted Specsavers about a really painful, dry eye which was red and very swollen. This was before lockdown so he attended a consultation with Specsavers optometrist Jennifer Marshall on 24th March.
Jennifer commented: 'William had previously contacted a minor injuries unit prior to getting in touch with us. He was diagnosed with dry eyes however his eyesight continued to get worse.
'I had an idea that William was suffering from viral conjunctivitis, which is extremely contagious, however I needed another expert opinion.'
Due to the patient potentially having something contagious and the current lockdown which was in place, teleopthalmology was the perfect solution for William.
'William and I did a three-way call with Dr Livingstone which was really simple, and he was able to confirm my suspicions through the technology and screen mirroring that it was in fact viral conjunctivitis.' continues Jennifer.
Dr Livingstone, said: 'With that one call, the patient had an optometrist and ophthalmologist at his fingertips and a prescription to help the problem.'
William has since had a telephone review with Specsavers on the progress of his eye condition.
Dr Livingstone continued: 'My work with participating optometrists and the University of Strathclyde has been a huge success as patients across Scotland now have access to teleopthalmology when needed.
'In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has definitely fast-tracked the expansion of teleophthalmology.'
In response to the pandemic, Specsavers have launched a new service, RemoteCare, a free nationwide sight and hearing consultation service offering access to vital advice and care from optometrists and audiologists, via video and telephone link.
Those with eye health concerns should contact Specsavers or their local opticians in the first instance, which will then refer patients to emergency eye care treatment centres if necessary.