Patient experience and ophthalmology: Is there hope left?

Published: 1-Feb-2024

Andy Hill, CEO of NuVision Biotherapies, discusses how innovations in ophthalmology can improve patient experience and why it is important to focus on this

Improving patient experience can deliver improved health outcomes, patient loyalty, and economic benefits. A US study found that good patient experience is associated with benefits including greater employee satisfaction which reduces staff turnover and greater patient self-management skills.

Studies of patients who were hospitalised for heart attacks showed those who reported a more positive experience had better health outcomes one year after discharge. But what does this mean for eye care services and the organisations working to innovate them?

Ophthalmology services in the UK are currently struggling to meet the needs of our population, leading to a range of negative effects. But there is still hope.

If you know where to look, across the UK world-leading innovations in ocular care are being developed. This has even been taken to the government with the National Eye Health Strategy Bill.

This has even been taken to the government with the National Eye Health Strategy Bill

Despite the many barriers that we face, there is hope that the objectives set out in this Bill are achievable; to improve eye health outcomes, reduce waiting times for eye health care, ensure providers of eye health care work together in an efficient way, increase the capacity and skills of the eye health care workforce, and make more effective use of research and innovation in eye health care.

Andy Hill, CEO at NuVision Biotherapies which develops and provides a selection of products that pioneer therapies in ophthalmology to 160 UK public and private hospitals, is hopeful that innovations in ophthalmology can deliver an improved patient experience, and support healthcare professionals and taxpayers more effectively.

Why is patient experience important?

Patient experience should be at the heart of healthcare, with services designed around every individual to meet their specific needs. Looking at and evaluating patient feedback can give us crucial insights into where there are shortfalls and what can be done to improve our services.

When it comes to ophthalmology services in the NHS, it has the second-highest waiting list with 630,000 people and it is the busiest outpatient service. We must therefore consider if NHS ophthalmology services are providing a patient experience that is positive. The current data suggests not.

If you read the front pages of the UK’s national newspapers in December 2023, you’d have likely seen headlines such as Eye patients pay for private treatment - or risk going blind in NHS backlog. With the Independent reporting that one patient had to pay £3,000 for emergency eye treatment or risk going blind due to a three-week NHS wait, it’s clear that as an industry we need to work together to do what we can to support these patients and give them the care they so desperately need. But of course, from a public perspective, there are barriers to providing timely, high-quality care, such as government funding.

Other stakeholders

Patients are of course the group that is most likely to be seriously impacted by poor-quality or delayed care, but let’s not forget the taxpayer and healthcare professionals.

With patient satisfaction scores decreasing, for example only 56% of patients surveyed reported a positive experience of A&E services in 2022 compared to 72% in 2020, there is ever growing pressure on professionals to keep patients happy.

This is of course limited by growing waiting lists, lack of funding and a general increase in pressure across departments. It’s becoming increasingly easy to understand the frustrations of professionals working across our healthcare services as they struggle to navigate these barriers to keeping patients happy and healthy.

When it comes to the taxpayer, longer waiting lists and services under pressure can create a significant economic burden. According to recent research, getting people off waiting lists could bring benefits equivalent to £73 billion between 2023 and 2027.

While the case for reducing waiting lists for non-emergency treatment, such as ophthalmology, has historically been made with reference to human cost, there are significant and diverse economic benefits for tackling this backlog.

Innovations in eye care

With our ophthalmology services under serious pressure, and the added awareness of the huge impact on our economy if we don’t get waiting lists under control, it might seem like a losing battle. However, there is still hope. In the UK and across the globe we’re seeing professionals in the public and private sectors delivering new solutions for ocular conditions and treatments. For example, the use of AI to train surgeons remotely and monitor eye health with smartphone apps and in May 2023, the NHS published new clinical guidance with the aim of reducing waiting times for eye care services for patients in England.

But what can innovations in this sector actually do for stakeholder experience? In November 2023, the Association of Optometrists (AOP) updated clinical guidelines to include the application of amniotic membranes in dry eye disease.

This opens access to the application of amniotic membranes in an outpatient setting to optometrists. For example, at NuVision we’ve developed OmniLenz (trademarked), a specialised bandage contact lens that enables amniotic membrane to be loaded onto the ocular surface in a four-to-six-minute procedure without the need for surgery.

The ability to safely apply a product in a consulting room with a design that allows the patient to retain an element of functional vision, means that this cutting edge clinical technology is increasingly accessible and practical

This means that optometrists have a new therapeutic option to help their patients living with a range of conditions, including dry eye disease. These new treatments can integrate easily into clinical practice and be delivered profitably as part of existing services in a community setting.

In the longer term, this will take the pressure off scarce NHS resources, allowing secondary-based care to reduce the current ophthalmology waiting list by focusing on patients who can only be treated in a hospital setting.

Dr Keyur Patel, Doctor of Optometry and Clinical Director at Tompkins Knight & Son Optometrists, added: “The ability to safely apply a product in a consulting room with a design that allows the patient to retain an element of functional vision, means that this cutting edge clinical technology is increasingly accessible and practical. We will now be able to give secondary and tertiary-level eye care in a primary care setting, which is of huge benefit to our patients.”

I’m very hopeful that if the industry continues to work together and dedicate time and resources in to discovering new technologies and techniques, opportunities to reduce waiting lists and improve patient experience will continue to crop up.

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