Jennifer Long is an optometrist, a Certified Generalist OHS Professional and a Certified Professional Ergonomist specialising in visual ergonomics. Based near Sydney, Australia, Jennifer has been self-employed as a visual ergonomics consultant since 2006. Her primary expertise is visual displays and
lighting, particularly as it applies to control room environments. Jennifer is also a conjoint senior lecturer at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW. Recently she has been involved in research projects at UNSW investigating visual comfort with smartphones. Her website is www.visualergonomics.com.au and she can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Occupational optometry is a diverse and interesting field. It includes providing services to individual patients (e.g., certifying that a patient has adequate vision to drive or to perform a job) and providing services to companies and other organisations (e.g., vision screening programs, eye protection advice, and products). If you are fortunate, you might even have the opportunity to visit a workplace and observe how workers interact with the task and their environment.
Here are seven top tips for providing occupational optometry services that I have found valuable over the past 20 years while working as a clinical optometrist and as an ergonomist providing advice to industry.
1.Ask people about their work.
You can provide better and more specific advice to patients if you understand what they do and how they use their eyes/vision in their jobs, sport or hobbies. The best way to understand what people do is to ask them! This doesn’t need to take up a lot of time during a consultation. It can be as simple as asking your patient “How many computer displays do you have on your workstation?” and “What distance are the displays from your eyes?” The knowledge you gain from asking your patient questions about their work will help you provide solutions for their visual needs. It will also give you a broader appreciation of the wide range of jobs and activities that people do. In the long run, the benefit of gaining this knowledge can far outweigh the small amount of time invested in asking questions.
2.Refer to current vision standards and guidelines.
Patients who require an eye examination for admittance to a job or for a license may bring the relevant paperwork with them to your consultation room. The simplest documents state the vision requirement and ask whether (or not) the requirement is met. The most unusual request I have received was for a man who needed certification that his vision met the criteria for umpiring high-grade tennis competitions. Proof that you can’t say “The umpire is blind!”
Be cautious about advising your patient whether they have “passed” a vision requirement, especially if the vision criteria are not listed on a vision screening form – unless, of course, you know the current standard or guideline for that particular job or task. Even so, the final decision for many jobs or licenses rests with the licensing authority or with a medical officer within an organization. Therefore, it is sometimes better to advise your patient to contact the authority or organization for their decision, rather than guessing what the requirement is and providing your patient with incorrect advice.
Last, but not least: check your patient’s photo identification when completing documentation which certifies their vision for a job or license.
3.Write reports that you are proud of.
If you write a report or a letter for a patient, remember, you never know who will read your report. Therefore, check the spelling and grammar is correct before sending. If you make a recommendation (e.g. “Mr. X has dry eyes and should not be seated underneath an air-conditioning vent”) then make sure that your recommendation is evidence-based, and that if requested, you can support your recommendations with evidence from the scientific literature.
4.Negotiate what services you will provide BEFORE you provide the service.
Just as you would provide a patient with a quotation for consultation fees and the cost of spectacles or contact lenses before you provide the patient with these services, you should also prepare a quotation (and get it approved) before providing services and products to a company. It can be a costly mistake to provide services or products, only to discover that it is outside of a company’s budget, that they didn’t understand what you would provide, or that what you have provided far exceeds what the company wanted or were prepared to pay for.
5.Look for opportunities to observe work being performed.
If you are keen to perform occupational optometry services outside of the consultation room, then it is an excellent idea to join your local Ergonomics society (for example, https://www.ergonomicssa.com/index.php?pid=6), or your local Safety society (for example, https://www.saiosh.co.za/). Here you will have the opportunity to interact and learn from others who regularly visit workplaces as part of their job. The societies may also host site visits as part of a professional development program, whereby visitors (i.e. you) can visit the workplace and see how work is performed.
Other ways you can gain a better understanding of jobs and tasks is to be observant of people in everyday life, for example, watch the barista making your coffee, the shop assistant processing a sale, the tradesperson installing your kitchen cupboards. You don’t necessarily need to ask these people questions about what they are doing, but actively observing them gives you the knowledge which you may be able to apply when dealing with your patients.
6.Respect company customs and rules when you go onsite.
If you have the privilege to visit a company and go onsite to observe work processes, then it is important to adhere to the health and safety policies and procedures of that worksite. This could mean attending a safety induction, wearing personal protective equipment (e.g. safety glasses, hearing protection, helmet), only walking in designated areas, or not talking to people while they are working. In many ways, going on site is like being invited into someone’s home: you need to respect their customs and rules while you are there.
In optometry, we usually work to short timeframes. For example, a patient makes an appointment for an eye examination; they attend the eye examination, order spectacles or contact lenses, and then collect the spectacles or contact lenses. This process cycle will usually be completed within 1 month (and probably much less time than this).
Company time frames are often longer. You may receive an initial enquiry for a service, but after discussing options with you and obtaining a quotation, the person making the inquiry may need to gain approval from multiple people within their organisation. It could be months between an initial enquiry and the date you are actually engaged to provide the service.
Be patient when you work with companies. It can take time for you to build trust: if a company engages you for work, then they need to be certain that you are the correct person for the job.
By all means, follow up on a quotation or an enquiry, but be mindful that the timeframes we are used to in clinical practice can be very different from the timeframes in other organisations and industries.
Some final words…
Occupational optometry can be a challenging field because a person’s job and livelihood may be affected by your clinical findings or your advice. It can also be very rewarding to positively influence your patient’s ability to work or take part in activities that they enjoy.
Don’t be afraid to go ‘the extra mile’ – try to understand how your patients use their eyes and vision in their work, sport, and hobbies. It will pay dividends in the quality of your clinical advice and will be appreciated by your patients.