Q&A with the Director of Research

Mike Bowen, the College's Director of Research answers questions about The Research Fund, and explains how this will help move our research work forward.

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Why the change in funding the College’s research?

The College has benefited from exceptional support, through incredibly generous donations from a very small number of donors from within the profession. Most of these were over 30 years ago. Since then there has not been a mechanism through which our members, the wider sector or the public can choose to support research directly by making donations. Our members should have the ability to choose how they express their support for the College's work in this area, and to determine the extent to which their profession embraces an evidence-based approach to practise.

What will the change enable you to do?

Asking members to support the College's research is also asking them to think about the evidence that they need in their day to day practise, or the evidence that their practise may be able to help produce. We want members to engage more proactively with the research agenda for their profession and field. Inviting optometrists to make a decision to provide funds for future research is a way of starting this conversation. 

This change will enable us to respond to members' requests and communications about the research that interests them and their patients most, and for which they are willing to provide financial support. Of course it is about getting the funds to do research, but it is also about getting members to say what research they want us to do for them and their patients.

Why is the College’s work in this area so important?

Possessing and actively developing a coherent evidence base is a defining characteristic for a profession. We believe that optometry should remain a profession, and thus should be engaged with this area of work, taking responsibility for research that can improve the quality and efficacy of optometric services.

The sector has many organisations doing varied and valuable work. Some provide funding for services to support people living with sight loss or visual impairment, some fund research into specific aspects of eye health or disease, but there is no other body that is specifically engaged in funding the range of research that the College supports. We are clear that it is good for the UK public to have access to high quality optometric services as a critical part of their eye health services - whether in primary or secondary care. 

We are also clear that for this to be possible, the profession should pursue an evidence-based approach to developing practice and services, and should take an active role in advancing the science of optometry, optics and related fields, through high quality research.

How have members and the wider profession benefitted from the College’s research work? 

The College dramatically increased its commitment to research back in 2008, when we launched our first research strategy. Over the eight years since then we have produced research that has helped to support the profession's engagements with the policy framework for health, influencing the decision to include an eye health indication in the Public Health Outcomes Framework, securing NIHR funding for research that supports members to provide high quality care to people living with dementia and that also demonstrates the value and importance of the role the optometrist should be playing in the health care provision for this vulnerable group. 

We have funded research that has informed optometric practice with children, both generally and in relation to contact lenses. We have produced evidence that shows that optometrists can play key roles in moving services from secondary care settings into community settings in ways that are both clinically safe and effective, and also financially viable. We have responded to information provided by cursory research by media companies by producing high quality research to review the provision of online spectacles and readymade spectacles, supporting members to demonstrate how their services are distinct from new offers, but also demonstrating to members where their approach could be refined to further improve their services as well.

 

We need to help set a research agenda that delivers new advances in eye care and to make sure that research findings are communicated effectively to primary eye care providers. A strong and effective College can make this happen.

The College’s Research Committee is the only research funding body that has expertise in both optometry and research methods. It is therefore well-placed to steer research funding towards projects that will deliver evidence of value to practising optometrists.

Professor Jeremy Guggenheim MCOptom, School of Optometry & Vision Sciences, Cardiff University

 

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