A focus on technology

Steve Brooker, Director of Regulatory Strategy, looks at new technology and its potential impact on regulation

Just before the Easter bank holiday, I participated in a technology focused visit to Birmingham as part of GOC’s industry familiarisation programme. Since it started last year, the programme has been invaluable in improving our understanding of the eye care sector and building relationships.

Joining me on this visit were Leonie Milliner, GOC’s CEO and Registrar, and two of our Education Visitor Panellists – Katie Carter and Dr John Deane. We visited three businesses: Mainline Instruments, Eyoto and Carl Zeiss. My thanks to everyone at those businesses for making us welcome, their candour in answering our questions and giving their time so generously. Thanks also to the Optical Suppliers Association for making connections.

The focus on tech was timely since Council recently signed off our forthcoming public consultation on our draft 2025-30 corporate strategy. One of our three proposed strategic objectives is supporting responsible innovation and protecting the public. Also, on the train up, I was reviewing the draft report on our survey of business registrants, which has an interesting story to tell on innovation and technology adoption in the sector.

The first takeaway from the visit, which will surprise no-one, is the rapid pace of change. We heard about solutions hitting the market now, others in the pipeline and the potential for the eye care sector to look very different in 20 years’ time. These developments clearly hold much potential to improve the diagnosis, treatment and management of eye conditions for patients as well as greatly assist professionals in carrying out their work. Equally, some developments could have long-term implications for what registrants do and therefore how they are trained and regulated.

A second theme, and one supported by our new research, is that regulation can act both as a driver of and a barrier to innovation. We heard about regulation holding back the introduction into the UK of solutions that are commonly available to patients in other countries. We pressed businesses to give us examples of where the Opticians Act or GOC regulations were holding them back. Their frustrations lay with regulations outside of our control; while encouraging to hear, of course we must remain vigilant.

There was much interest in our review of the 2013 statement on the testing of sight. The review was started amid concern that some sight test models which are separated by time, place or person may not adequately protect the public. It was useful for us to see an example of equipment supporting a teleoptometry model being trialled in locations where it is proving difficult to recruit optometrists. Teleoptometry involves the optometrist conducting the sight test via video link from another location. It is an example of where technology can reduce barriers to patients accessing eye care, but it is vital to ensure proper standards of care are maintained.

Since its inception, our industry familiarisation programme has involved visits to a wide range of stakeholders in the sector, including a hospital eye department, a prison, equipment manufacturers as well as optical practices large and small. We are keen to learn more, so if you would like to host us on a future visit, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact Philippa Mendonsa, Head of Education and CPD Operations, on pmendonsa@optical.org.