Feature, Report

Counting down: the new CPD standard for optometrists

On 1 December, the registration standard for optometrists’ CPD will change from a points-based two-year cycle to a time-based annual cycle. Insight examines the challenges this presents, how optometrists are responding and whether COVID-19 has helped or hindered the impending change-over.

Announced 18 months ago, the Optometry Board of Australia (OBA) is officially ushering in its new registration standard for continuing professional development (CPD) next month, bringing an end to the existing system that’s been in place for the past seven years.

The optometry CPD standard was revised after being scrutinised in a joint scheduled review that involved extensive consultation with the profession before being approved in June 2019.

The updated standard, applicable to all registered optometrists except those with student or non-practising registration, has been introduced to implement adult learning principles that contribute to better practice outcomes for the benefit of the public, according to the OBA.

The shift will align the optometry standard with other health professions that have already made this transition, including occupational therapists, chiropractors, Chinese medicine and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health practitioners.

At ground-level, the change-over has been a significant undertaking for the sector, which has overhauled the CPD framework while contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, CPD providers say they are moving to safeguard the integrity of the system, due to the removal of an accreditation requirement.

For optometrists, there’s anxiety about what the changes will mean in real terms. And it’s important to understand the new obligations; failure to meet the new standard can result in OBA-imposed conditions on an optometrist’s registration or – at worst – a registration, or registration renewal, application being refused.

New standard promotes greater flexibility

The OBA’s current registration standard for CPD, which has been in place since January 2013 and will expire at the end of November, is based on a rolling twoyear cycle in which optometrists need to achieve a minimum 80 CPD points.

Under the new standard, which takes effect on 1 December, optometrists have one year to achieve a minimum of 30 hours’ professional development if they are therapeutically-endorsed, or 20 hours if they are not.

According to OBA statistics, there are 3,801 therapeutically-endorsed optometrists, equating to 65% of all registered optometrists. For this group, 10 of their 30 hours’ professional development, or one third, must be therapeutic units.

Optometrists will now be required to log five hours’ minimum interactive units, and five hours’ maximum non-scientific units, and will need to log a minimum 25 hours of clinical activities if they are therapeutically-endorsed, or 15 hours if they are not.

Unchanged from the previous system, optometrists will be required to document and submit a learning plan, and update their CPR training every three years.

The OBA says the review presented an opportunity to consider ongoing professional development-based contemporary understanding, research, feedback from practitioners and experience from other health profession boards both nationally and internationally.

According to the OBA, a key benefit for optometrists of the new standard is much greater flexibility in understanding what contributes to professional development, implementing personal learning plans and broadening the ways that this can be achieved.

Ian Bluntish, Optometry Board of Australia.

In comments he shared in Insight’s July Soapbox column, OBA chair Mr Ian Bluntish said the new standard emphasises a need for practitioners to reflect on their personal professional development needs and seek out opportunities to undertake CPD.

“[Optometrists] will need to reflect on how these activities have influenced [their] practice and, ultimately, how they benefit patients and the wider community seeking optometric care,” he said.

Challenges and opportunities

Optometry Australia (OA) – which provides CPD, approves content from external providers, and keeps a record of its members’ CPD – has been preparing for the changeover.

Professional development and clinical policy manager Mr Simon Hanna says OA has created the relevant framework to support its members’ transition to a new time-based CPD standard and understand their educational obligations to meet new registration requirements.

Simon Hanna, Optometry Australia.

“Our move into education aligns to our strategic goal to be the preeminent provider of CPD and our forward thinking has placed us in a strong position to not only provide members with the planning tools that they will need to meet their time-based CPD registration requirements, but to also offer them a portfolio of quality time-based CPD programs,” Hanna says.

“One of the first initiatives that we implemented was to launch Optometry Australia’s Institute of Excellence in August 2019. This is now members’ primary digital destination for professional education attracting 10,000 page views per month,” he says.

OA continues to expand its range of education programs delivered through its Institute of Excellence.

“This now includes a portfolio of regular live and on-demand webcasts, publications and Optometry Virtually Connected – our annual conference and product showcase,” Hanna says.

He says one specific challenge the new system presents is for therapeutically endorsed practitioners to complete 30 CPD hours (including 10 therapeutic hours) per year.

“In order to assist our members obtain these hours, Optometry Australia has been populating its Institute of Excellence’s online learning platform with relevant high quality course content from a host of reputable CPD providers. It is also in the process of developing, for each member, a unique CPD Learning Plan to help practitioners meet their CPD requirements.”

Corporations and not-for-profits such as Specsavers and the Australian College of Optometry are also navigating the new system and the challenges they may face to provide CPD.

Specsavers CPD manager Dr Joseph Paul says the first major challenge is ensuring all Specsavers optometrists are aware of and understand the new standard.

Joseph Paul, Specsavers.

“We are confident that we are on track for this. Recent documents from the Optometry Board of Australia have been helpful in clarifying some of the greyer areas of the new standard,” he says.

Paul says an important change optometrists will need to adapt to is setting up and maintaining a CPD portfolio, that covers learnings needs, CPD training plans and a reflective CPD journal.

“To support this, we have developed a simple and accessible way for our optometrists to manage their personal records within the Specsavers MyCPD portal that we launched earlier this year,” he says.

“The portal houses online courses, live events and webinars, as well as providing a place for each individual optometrist to keep the records they will need to meet the new standard, including training plans and reflections on how each CPD event met their learning needs.”

The opportunities the new standard presents are as equally important as the challenges, Paul says.

“The focus on self-directed learning and meaningful interaction with peers and presenters allows us to look at new ways to deliver CPD that will meet our optometrists’ educational needs. The Ophthalmology Local Education and Engagement Program that we ran last year was in many ways designed with this new standard in mind. Having small group CPD sessions facilitated by a local ophthalmologist really encouraged interaction and engagement for the optometrists who attended and allowed the CPD content to be tailored quite specifically for the local area,” he says.

CEO of Australian College of Optometry (ACO) Ms Maureen O’Keefe says her organisation is committing time and resources into preparing for the new system, as will all CPD providers.

Maureen O’Keefe, Australian College of Optometry.

“We’re investing in reorganising or reformatting our education programs and our systems to meet the new requirements and to ensure the program remains relevant,” O’Keefe says.

“It seems that in 2020 change is the only certain. Making some of these changes in the current COVID climate may also be challenging.”

ACO is considered a major national provider of best practice clinical learning pathways for optometrists. Its flagship programs include certificate courses in ocular therapeutics, public health and leadership in eyecare, children’s vision, glaucoma, and contact lenses.

“The ACO also offers a broad range of face-to-face and online professional development opportunities including clinical workshops, an annual conference, therapeutics updates, lectures and webinars,” O’Keefe says.

She credits the new CPD system with bringing optometry into line with other health professions but cautions it can’t be at the expense of quality.

“There is a continued focus on interactive learning and the need for optometrists to develop a learning plan based on their own needs and interest. The focus on improving patient outcomes and evidence-based knowledge is very pleasing,” she says.

“However, given that the Optometry Board of Australia no longer requires activities to be accredited there is a risk that there may be a drop in the quality of CPD available.”

She adds: “The ACO will continue to invest in developing high quality education to help optometrists provide the best possible care for their patients.”

OA shares O’Keefe’s concerns about a potential decline in the quality of CPD and has put safeguards in place to protect this from happening.

“Optometry Australia has launched a quality assurance program designed to ensure that members can access the best education on offer. Our new Institute of Excellence Quality Assurance Program will identify those CPD activities that are considered a suitable quality to meet members’ learning needs,” Hanna says.

“We expect that the majority of Optometry Australia’s members in particular will rely on this indicator of quality when determining what CPD to undertake. We have contacted all providers to let them know of our new quality assurance program and we will work closely with them to ensure that their courses meet our quality expectations.”

Optometrists’ response

With nearly 6,000 registered optometrists directly affected by the change to CPD requirements – and all subject to a random annual registration audit under OBA including CPD compliance – it stands to reason there is some nervousness about the change.

Hanna says OA is actively supporting its members to prepare for the change.

“Optometry Australia has an extensive communications program under way aimed at informing members of the changes and how it will impact them. This includes a comprehensive guide that was distributed to all members in the September issue of Pharma, and a Q&A session with the chair of OBA, Ian Bluntish, during Optometry Virtually Connected [conference],” Hanna says.

He says the organisation is also fielding several questions and providing one-on-one advice to members.

“We are proactively communicating with our members about the changes and this will not abate for several months. For instance, we have a video planned to walk members through the new Learning Plan and we recently published a comprehensive guide highlighting the different types of education that they will require, such as interactive and independent learning,” Hanna explains.

The OBA says optometrists have responded to the change in CPD standard “like all changes, with some nervousness”, but as they get to comprehend what is expected most understand the benefits.

“This has been greatly assisted by the work undertaken by Optometry Australia in disseminating the details and working with their members to provide support, increasing the range of CPD activities and tools to assist in developing plans and recording activities,” the OBA says.

Paul says Specsavers optometrists are getting to grips with the new system, but questions remain.

“We’ve had numerous questions from our optometrists over the past few months about the forthcoming changes, which I think shows that they are engaging with the change and looking to get on top of it so they can hit the ground running when the standard changes over,” he says.

“We’ve seen on our MyCPD portal that a lot of our optometrists are already writing reflections on their CPD events and are completing courses that are relevant to their learning needs.”

Re-thinking CPD in COVID era

When the OBA announced the new CPD standard in August 2019 with a start date of 1 December 2020, no one could have predicted a global pandemic would strike in the ensuing year, or what impact it may have on CPD.

As Hanna explains, COVID-19 presented OA with the challenge of ensuring it could support members meet their current CPD commitments while preparing for the new system.

“It provided us with the opportunity to expand our range of CPD offerings via an enhanced program of live and on-demand webcasts and to launch Optometry Virtually Connected [conference],” he says.

“In addition to delivering these programs, we continued to prepare our systems and processes to meet the CPD transition on 1 December.”

The OBA concurs that the COVID-19 environment has already highlighted how the new requirements can be facilitated using online webinars and interactive apps to provide greater flexibility.

Paul, Specsavers’s CPD manager, says the emphasis on interaction at CPD events may present a challenge if in-person events can’t be held.

“Webinars, like we have been running through Specsavers Clinical Conference Online, are a fantastic way to reach a lot of people at once and to make CPD accessible, but the downside of a large webinar is that it is a little harder to get interactivity between presenter and attendees,” he says.

“I think the spirit of CPD entrepreneurship, for want of a better word, that has sprung up over the past few months will carry us through the changeover. I’d say there’s never been a better time for having all sorts of CPD available at an optometrist’s fingertips.”

Live sessions with Optometry Australia 

Join Optometry Australia advisors for a live Zoom chat on the CPD changes this week.

The organisation has scheduled one-hour sessions every day as follows:

  • Monday 30 November 12pm AEDT (facilitated by Simon Hanna)
  • Tuesday 1 December 12pm AEDT (facilitated by Simon Hanna)
  • Tuesday 1 December 3pm AEDT (facilitated by Sophie Koh)
  • Wednesday 2 December 12pm AEDT (facilitated by Sophie Koh)
  • Thursday 3 December 12pm AEDT (facilitated by Simon Hanna)
  • Thursday 3 December 3pm AEDT (facilitated by Sophie Koh)
  • Friday 4 December 12pm AEDT (facilitated by Simon Hanna)

Please diarise the session that you would like to attend, and add the link below into your diary. On the day, simply click on the link below, or copy and paste it into your browser: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81822112247