Optometrists across the country have introduced strict measures to help prevent exposure to COVID-19. These include conducting remote consultations where possible [i], closing doors to all but emergency cases [ii], implementing floor markings as a reminder to observe the 2-meter distance rule [ii] and NHS England’s COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES), delivered from a network of optical practices, acting as urgent eye care hubs, to support the immediate and recovery phase of the coronavirus pandemic [iii].
NHS Derby and Derbyshire CCG and Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust have adopted the same measures but have also embraced innovative Ophthalmology technology. Since July 2020, optometrists in this area have been able to use Photo Messaging Advice & Guidance, via the Consultant Connect App, to obtain specialist Advice & Guidance from ophthalmologists at their local Hospital Eye Service (HES) department on patient-related queries.
Alex Howard, an Optometrist at Specsavers Opticians in Chesterfield, explains:
“This has helped us to decide which patients we do and don’t need to refer. Receiving feedback via this service not only benefits the patient in front of you, but also helps you to learn for similar cases in the future.”
Alex also says the service has improved relationships with between optometrists and the local HES department:
“It has also been very useful for communicating about patients already under secondary care. This has helped to build relationships between community optometry and our local HES department.”
When a patient presents with potential pathology during their appointment with their optometrist, the optometrist is able to quickly establish contact by sending photos/scans etc. and messages related to the patient case with a specialist. The average response time for this specialty is 5hr 19mins.
Alex explains that “Patients have been reassured to know that they can get clinical input from ophthalmology without having to attend hospital. We have also seen quite a few anxious patients who have had their HES follow-ups delayed, and the Consultant Connect service enabled us to seek specialist advice about these patients.”
We asked Dr Sanjay Choudhary, Consultant Ophthalmology and Clinical Lead Ophthalmology at Chesterfield Royal what his experience of the service has been:
“An extremely useful innovative virtual ophthalmic service which is already helping in reducing the number of referrals into the hospital eye service and is also providing a valuable and timely feedback to the patients and Optometrists.”
We recently surveyed Optometrists in Derby to ask for feedback on their experience using the Consultant Connect service. Please see below some anonymous feedback:
“[Consultant Connect] is quicker to add photos. There’s a template there for guidance, making it less likely to miss out info the consultants need.”
“I got advice within one hour last weekend, very impressed!”
“You can learn from / see past cases, you can use it on your smart phone and attach photos easily!”
“The times I have used it I got very quick responses.”
“It’s an easy way to ask questions. Very prompt response time.”
“Patients like the knowledge of second opinion from consultants without any travel or inconvenience. I find when a referral is advised both patient and eye department are more receptive if they know the patient was triaged by Consultant Connect increasing likelihood of patient compliance with any referral/future appointments. I feel this increases patient safety and is likely to reduce wasted NHS resources appointments.”
Results to date*:
*Results from launch in July 2020 – 24 Nov 2020 and outcomes based on those message sessions where the clinician reported an outcome.