The sun was shining and you could feel the excitement as the 78th Orthoptics Australia annual conference kicked off at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre. More than 200 orthoptists from around the country gathered for the first face-to-face conference in three years, which delivered a highly engaging programme with outstanding presentations, new research and technology.
Before diving into the clinical side, we were eased into the first morning with a brilliant reminder about the importance of self-care from Alison Coughlan, an expert in health and social workforce wellbeing. In what has been a tough few years working through a pandemic, she explained how we can recognise the signs of burnout and prevent it.
Let’s get clinical
The highlights for me were the talks relating to paediatric ophthalmology, with the Sydney Children’s Hospital’s orthoptists well represented as they delivered their fascinating case studies.
Among them was Coco Howard discussed demyelinating disease in childhood/juvenile-onset multiple sclerosis (MS), which represents 2-10% of MS cases. A demyelinating disease is a condition that causes damage to the protective covering of the nerve fibres in your brain including the ones that lead to the eyes.
Georgia Shaw at The Children's Hospital at Westmead presented on the alarming number of traumatic eye injuries in kids, affecting six million children per year. Of these, 250,000 need to be hospitalised, 3.9 million suffer bilateral vision loss and 1.8 million suffer monocular vision loss. This costs the Australian Government AU$155 million per year. The obvious reasons traumatic eye injuries are higher in the paediatric population than in adults is their inability to perceive risk, lack of physical coordination and vulnerable facial form and structure.
The impacts of trauma are also more severe than in adults and can lead to amblyopia as well as reduced quality of life. Children whose injuries extend to the lens also have poorer visual outcomes. Shaw’s case studies involving eye-penetrating objects, such as a pencil, a satay stick and a Stanley knife, were accompanied by gory images, which had us squirming in our seats!
Ginkgo biloba, Braille and baristas
The OA conference programme was cleverly designed so we could join our ophthalmologist friends for lunch in the RANZCO exhibition hall, where we could test some of the latest tech and ophthalmic devices. It didn’t hurt to have a barista-made coffee and some Messina gelato available, too! The rest of the afternoon consisted of talks on the retina and low vision, a highlight being the use of Lego bricks to assist low-vision children to learn Braille through play, which I think is a brilliant collaboration with the toymaker.
The morning of day two focused on general ophthalmology and glaucoma. I found Melbourne-based Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital’s Dr Brian Ang’s talk on the benefits of Ginkgo biloba leaves for normal-tension glaucoma (NTG), super interesting. Dr Ang’s presentation demonstrated the benefits of a proactive approach to managing glaucoma suspects and patients through nutrition and lifestyle changes – contrary to the current approach of monitoring them every 6-12 months and only taking action once progression has been confirmed. I’m all for supplementing through nutrition as an alternative to drugs where we can, so I know which path I would prefer.
National Framework for Vision Screening
It was great to hear former OA president Marion Rivers’ talk on the introduction of a national set of minimum standards for preschool vision screening in Australia. This was implemented well in New South Wales’ StEPS programme and is being used as a case study to adopt a similar model across Australia. It will ensure all 3.5-5-year-old Australians have access to integrated and people-centred eyecare, where vision-screening programmes with coordinated pathways for referral and follow-up will help with early detection of vision problems and facilitate timely treatment.
I’m a huge fan of this framework and I commend the hard work of all involved to create this change; it’s just a shame this wasn't implemented nationwide by the government sooner, when StEPS started. My only concern is a potential lack of consistency among the different states in the way they collect and use data, which will hinder the reporting of prevalence and prediction of trends in children’s eye health. If they can create a standardised system nationwide for this, we’ll be onto a winner.
The conference wasn’t all clinical, however, with the highly anticipated OA masquerade dinner seeing everyone frocked up and rocking some clever and creative masks. I had a wonderful time as an attending orthoptist and as an exhibitor, catching up with friends and colleagues. Congratulations to the Orthoptics Australia team on a wonderful conference that was so well organised and informative, and left us all eager to attend the next one.
Want to learn more about Maddy's weekend at the Orthoptics Australia conference? Check out this article she wrote for NZ Optics Magazine.