A new study of how we treat vision loss at the Royal College of Ophthalmologists has found that some opticians are simply not getting the training they need.
The study by University of Dundee researcher Prof Franklin Tn, is published in the Journal of Ocular Research.
Prof Tn said that many opticians had not been taught how to recognise the signs of vision loss, so that when they were seeing a patient with vision loss they would fail to see the sign of loss and so fail to help.
“A large part of the problem is that opticians do not know how to assess the severity of their patients’ vision loss,” Prof Tn told BBC News.
He said the lack of training was also limiting the quality of care and that some of the most common reasons for failing to help were a lack of awareness of the severity and nature of vision changes, lack of understanding of the patient’s medical history and lack of experience in the field.
In his new study, Prof Tl analysed data from the Royal Eye Institute’s Vision and Care in Practice Survey (VCPS) which was completed by more than 500 opticians across the UK in 2014.
Among the reasons given for not getting sufficient training were that their own vision and ophthalmology training was not up to scratch, and that their training did not provide enough knowledge to assess their patients.
It found that in terms of the perception of the visual environment, about half of opticians were not able to recognise their patients with vision changes.
About 20 per cent of the opticians who did not get enough training said that their vision was “poor”, with only about 10 per cent saying their vision is “fair”.
“Many opticians believe they need to be ‘good’ at seeing a lot of different things and are therefore more likely to see patients with eye problems, which in turn makes it harder to help them with vision problems,” Prof. Tn added.
Dr Joanne Smith, the head of the Royal Society of Osteopathic Ophthalmology (RSO) said that the results were worrying and suggested that the profession should look at how they train opticians.
“This study highlights a very serious lack of knowledge about the signs and symptoms of vision change, particularly those that affect the eyes, which may lead to patients suffering from vision loss in the future,” Dr Smith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
She said that there was a “big problem” in the profession and there were too many optics without training, including some who did a poor job of spotting a visual change in patients.
“It is important that optics training is better in order to treat people with vision conditions, but it is also important that we recognise the need to improve on that,” she said.
As part of its Vision in Practice survey, the RCO found that over 60 per cent had experienced vision loss and that around half of those people were looking after children.
A total of 2,922 patients were surveyed and the survey found that 70 per cent were looking for a doctor to see them.
However, the survey also found that almost one in five opticians said they did not know about the need for training.
Professor Tn also highlighted the need in training to help those patients who may be in a worse position to recognise vision changes in the first place.
“We know that for those with vision deficits, the best way to help is to teach them to identify the signs, which can include looking at the eye with their own eyes, and to use their eyes to assess and treat their vision problems.
This can also help them to better understand their eyes and how they respond to their eye health,” he said.