Opticians using new technology to fill gap left by NHS eyecare
Sight is something which is often taken for granted - until there is a problem.
But as more and more people are taking their eye health seriously - and our health service becomes more stretched - opticians are stepping up to the plate to provide increasingly complex services.
And in some circumstances, these checks may be able to save your life.
Research published earlier this year showed around 15pc of people risk losing their sight by not having regular eye tests.
But Norwich-based independent opticians Dipple and Conway found those who are taking control of their eye health are doing so more seriously - as 95pc of their customers opt for an enhanced optical coherence tomography (OCT) test - likened to an MRI for the eyes.
The test provides an advanced, detailed and enhanced 3D scan of the eye. And can detect early warning signs or underlying health issues below the eye’s surface.
The health issues may need to be referred to hospital or for further medical treatment. But the practice also said they were picking up issues the NHS did not have the resources to deal with.
Alison Blake, clinical lead at Dipple and Conway, said: “A lot more patients are now aware of their eye health and the importance of it.
“They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and from the conditions we see, we can pick up what could cause long term health issues.”
One of the positives of having the OCT test was the amount of time available to spend with patients, said Mrs Blake.
“That’s best for their care and we don’t like to rush things,” she said.
It also meant there was time to discuss family history, and any issues the patient already has.
But the technology of the OCT test also played a big part, as it meant a cross sectional scan of the back of the eye could be captured, as well as a retinal photograph.
“We’re often asked about diabetes,” Mrs Blake said. “It’s rare for us to diagnose it but we can monitor any sight-threatening diabetes in the eye.”
Again a rarity, but in the past the test had also shown tumours in the eye, which would not have been picked up on a standard eye test.
“Primarily they do start elsewhere,” Mrs Blake said. “But they can be picked up and that can save lives.”
Dipple and Conway director 35-year-old Matthew Conway became involved in the business full time in 2011, along with his cousin Ben.
But as a family business, he remembered his first job being stuffing envelopes for the company.
Now, he said he’s proud the fourth-generation business is offering the cutting edge service.
“I can say with almost certainty that it’s pioneering for Norfolk,” he said. “In a couple of years it will be a common part of any eye examination.
“We’ve seen the industry change massively. Now we’re seeing independent opticians who are not offering this higher level of service go out of business.
“It does mean it’s a bit more expensive, but the patient can see where their money is going.”
As well as offering that bit extra, Mr Conway also said they were able to help where a GP may not for conditions such as dry eyes.
Or Mrs Blake added they may be able to treat conditions which hospitals may not have the time to look at, while they deal with more serious cases.
Mr Conway said: “People don’t always realise they can get help for dry eye, their GP may give them advice to wash them with some baby shampoo. But because we are so pioneering in doing this dry eye service, there is help available.”
Mrs Blake added: “These are chronic conditions, they’re not curable, but they are manageable.”
“The reason it has changed is there is a lot of pressure on us to keep eye patients out of the NHS. And we can do that here.”
• For more information, visit www.dippleconway.co.uk