Whilst optometry and pharmacy have their rivalries at university; with the Cardiff Optometry/Pharmacy Varsity which pits the two courses against each other in a variety of sporting events. We also have our similarities; being public facing; analytical thinking; needing good communication skills and technical knowledge. However the biggest link between the two disciplines is that we are both involved in the primary health care sector; that is dealing with patients who present with particular problems, often of acute onset, and would like our specialist advice.
To this end it is good to foster good relationships with your local pharmacies so they know what you can supply or write signed orders for (the optometry version of a prescription). It also helps if they know a bit about the local minor eye care service (MECS) you can provide in England, or about the Eye Health Examination Wales (EHEW) which provides a similar service across all of Wales. This means that they can refer patients presenting with eye problems to you as a specialist part of primary care rather than sending them to their GP or to hospital, although this may be necessary in some cases.
As part of this for the past few weeks we have been having pharmacy students come into our practice and spend some time with us. During this time we explain the different parts of the eye care sector; dispensing opticians, optometrists, ophthalmologists, orthoptists and how we all work together to help patients. (Sorry to any contact lens opticians reading, you get lumped in with dispensing opticians I suppose). Whilst some have an idea of the different roles we all play, most have been surprised by how many roles there are and how they all come together. They sit in on a few sight tests to see how we explain ocular conditions and what side effects different medication can have on the eyes (few examples here). We also put them through the pre and post-screening we do routinely to help with their understanding of a routine test.
It's not just pharamacists that we, as optometrists, should be fostering better connections with; it's also GPs, the local hospital eye service particularly the on-call ophthalmologists who deal with everything we send from practice. This means that GPs can refer to the appropriate specialists and we can manage or refer appropriately. Feedback from all sides is important so we can all improve our knowledge and help patients better.