Specsavers Dispensing Conference – All about the customer

SDC3 took place as a series of one-day events from 4 to 9 August across four Australian cities: Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. The events attracted a combined total of almost 400 attendees, including both Specsavers and non-Specsavers qualified dispensers and optical dispensing students.

Richard Couch, Specsavers’ Head of Ophthalmic Lenses and Dispensing Advancement, opened the conference by outlining the current eye health landscape, and why raising the standards of dispensing was of critical importance.

“Patients entering into our practice have never had as many visual challenges before,” he stated.

Richard pointed out that there had been significant changes in patients’ visual needs – predominantly due to the use of digital technology, but also driven by factors such as the developing myopia epidemic, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, and Australia’s growing and ageing population.

“Optical dispensing still forms a fundamental part of the eye health value chain, but we do not hold a divine right to that position,” Richard noted. “It is incumbent upon us as professionals to continue to challenge ourselves to be the best we can be – to acquire new knowledge and skills to be able to best fulfil the requirements of our customers and patients, and to ensure that the human element of eye health in general, and dispensing in particular, is not lost to artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Understanding your patient, understanding your product
The conference program comprised six sessions delivered in a mixture of lecture and workshop formats that were underpinned by a single core idea: that by having a thorough understanding of your product and combining this with a complete understanding of your patient’s visual needs, you can confidently recommend and dispense the best optical solution available and educate the patient on how to correctly use the dispensed solution to enhance their life.

Understanding begins with education and professional development, and Donald Crichton, Vice President of the International Opticians Association (IOA), touched on this in his lecture about the purpose of the IOA and the benefits of joining. Donald provided a brief overview of the IOA’s history as well as its recent growth, before launching into the value and benefits of industry representation and being part of a global community. Benefits included continuing education, improved job prospects through networking, mentorship opportunities and access to exclusive resources, among others. At the end of the presentation, each SDC3 delegate was given the opportunity to join the IOA at no charge, with the full cost of one year’s membership subsidised by Specsavers.

Returning to SDC for their second and third year, respectively, were Miranda Richardson (Assistant Director of Professional Examinations) and Alicia Thompson (Director of Professional Examinations) from the UK’s Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO). Both ABDO representatives presented interactive workshops that involved discussions of real-life cases.

Alicia’s presentation focussed on communication and the use of visual task analysis (Grundy, 1986) to understand a patient’s typical day. She noted that by understanding the numerous ways in which the patient might potentially use their spectacles in their day-to-day life, dispensers might be able to identify new opportunities for visual enhancement that the patient might not have previously considered. The dispensers could then present them with a range of suitable options and allow the patient to make their own informed decision. Alicia provided some guidance on patient communication, conducted a deep-dive into visual task analysis, discussed matching product to a patient’s needs, then led group discussions where delegates considered what they might dispense for a number of example cases.

Continuing on from her presentation at SDC2 in 2018 which explored a four-step process for prescription analysis, Miranda discussed how to interpret complex patient prescriptions and highlighted considerations to keep in mind when sending a dispensing order to a lab. She emphasised the importance of considering how the final optical appliance would suit the patient in terms of both look and function, as well as affordability. She also advised dispensers to keep in mind what the lab could realistically produce, pointing out that many remakes could be avoided through better dispensing choices. Delegates were presented with a number of complex prescriptions and challenging lab orders taken from real-life examples, each of which had different areas that could be addressed to influence a better patient outcome. These were discussed in groups and were further brought to life by two physical examples of each prescription that were passed around amongst the delegates at the end of each discussion. The first was a facsimile of the original order placed, with the second being the same prescription, but this time with better dispensing choices informing the outcome, such as changes to frame shape and size or lens form.

Sofia Fazal, Professional Services Manager for Carl Zeiss Vision UK, introduced the concept of the ‘pre-presbyopic patient’. She explained that global studies had shown that more than 50% of people diagnosed with presbyopia were in their mid-to-late 30s, challenging preconceptions that the condition usually develops in patients aged 45 years and older. Sofia listed some of the factors that affected early onset of presbyopia, including increased use of digital devices and its impact on accommodation; discussed how to successfully dispense to a pre-presbyope, providing advice on communication; and outlined some possible spectacle solutions for this demographic. She also conducted a live case discussion to provide an example of how to address a pre-presbyope’s symptoms, with additional cases supplied for in-store discussion with dispensing teams.

Craig Johnston, National Sales and Marketing Manager at Younger Optics, presented a session on polarised lenses, with a particular focus on the NuPolar range. He explained polarised light, the requirements of a polarised prescription lens, and the advantages polarised lenses provided over non-polarised lenses in protecting patients’ eyes. He also discussed the unique benefits of Younger Optics’ NuPolar technology and the company’s Transitions Drivewear range. Craig concluded his lecture with an explanation of birefringence, an issue that can arise in polarised lenses, and how to avoid or troubleshoot it with appropriate dispensing recommendations.

The conference ended with a keynote lecture from special international guest Professor Mo Jalie, globally renowned author of the core dispensing text, Principles of Ophthalmic Lenses. Prof Jalie’s session involved a detailed and highly technical examination of aspheric lenses. It included a history of spectacle lens design and how aspheric surfaces work. Prof Jalie explained the prescriptions for which aspheric lenses were most suited, how they could be personalised for individual fittings, and their aesthetic advantages over standard lenses. He further added the importance of such a lens form, particularly now with the increased popularity of larger spectacle frames.

At the end of the day, delegates were invited to enjoy drinks and canapés as they socialised and networked with their peers and the conference speakers.

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