Feature, Orthoptics Australia

Workplace adaptation during a pandemic

COVID-19 has drastically altered the way orthoptists approach their work. From clinical practice to wellbeing, BREANNA BAN discusses how her colleagues are adapting to the new normal.

Overnight, it felt as though our working environment transformed as the coronavirus presented a myriad of new challenges for orthoptists in ophthalmology clinics.

Many of those challenges will be here to stay, so how do workplaces adapt to change while ensuring the health and safety of colleagues and patients? And how do they provide support and adapt to a new kind of normal?

For orthoptists, reality hit when it became increasingly difficult to obtain personal protective equipment, as well as basic cleaning and sanitising products due to global shortages.

Breanna Ban.

Additional measures were put in place as protective screens appeared at reception desks and on slit lamps. Scrubs paired with masks became an essential part of the work uniform. The need for intensive routine disinfections of high touch surfaces in between patients arose. Mandatory temperature checks on arrival and patients using their cars as a waiting room were incorporated into a clinical attendance.

We needed to reconsider the whole approach to patient referrals to decrease patient volumes within the clinic. New triaging guidelines introduced more complex concerns such as how to appropriately allocate appointments according to their urgency.

Cases deemed as low urgency were deferred and placed on a cancellation waiting list. Telehealth consultations became a focus but could only provide so much information in an eye assessment.

Entire clinical sessions and ophthalmologist rosters were re-scheduled to accommodate new guidelines. Tag-team rosters and reduced working hours were implemented, which not only generated challenges in communication between team members, but also created uncertainty, highlighting the need for monitoring the wellbeing of individuals.

To effectively navigate change of this magnitude, firstly, leaders in the workplace need to stay informed of rapidly changing policies and guidelines and develop daily solutions with new work models that prioritise health and safety.

Orthoptists are amongst those on the frontline when it comes to seeing patients in an ophthalmology clinic. This can be overwhelming, especially when the first concern is preventing any transmission of the virus.

Therefore it’s vital that not only new approaches to a patient consultation are developed, but also that managers enforce these new protocols. Such implementations can include the time spent with patients being kept to a minimum and, for tasks such as visual field testing, the orthoptist ensures a 1.5-metre distance from the patient after the initial set up.

Additionally, orthoptists are modifying their choice of tests where appropriate. For example, measuring intraocular pressure with an Icare instead of a Perkins tonometer. The probes of the Icare are disposable between patients and this method also creates more distance between the clinician and patient when taking the measurement.

Simple procedural and technological implementations like these allow an orthoptist to continue their work safely whilst reducing infection risk and adhering to social distancing protocols.

Another important consideration is effective communication. Segregated teams working on alternating days or working from home means extra time needs to be allocated for the preparation of comprehensive and carefully considered handovers. This requires accountability and if implemented correctly, reduces the risk of errors and oversights. It is easy to take for granted the value of face-to-face discussions and handovers within the workplace. Now more than ever, clinics are relying on virtual collaboration for clear and concise communication. In some cases, email content can be misinterpreted and body language cues that might indicate feelings such as stress are often lost.

It can feel stressful and overwhelming during an event like the coronavirus outbreak and people can be affected differently. The increasing uncertainty and the constant need to be flexible with changes presents daily challenges.

As a result, it is vital that supervisors and managers are approachable, responsive and encourage a self-care model to adequately support the needs of coworkers. The ability to recognise that it’s OK not to be OK some days and know when to raise concerns at a higher level is paramount. By simply checking in with colleagues and really listening to how they are coping can go a long way. Encouraging mood-boosting activities such as exercise, mindfulness and connecting as a work group via video conferencing can also help in overcoming the feelings of isolation.

With adjustments to a new normal in an orthoptist’s role and no end date in sight, it’s crucial to acknowledge the value in discovering silver linings and reminding colleagues and patients that we are all in this together.


BREANNA BAN is an orthoptist, working in a multi-doctor private ophthalmology clinic in Melbourne. She graduated from La Trobe University Melbourne with a Bachelor of Health Sciences and Masters of Orthoptics in 2015. She is the Victorian Branch Secretary and Federal PR coordinator for Orthoptics Australia.

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