On 19 May this year, the Australian Ocularists Association got together for a meeting in Palm Cove, Queensland, which I attended.
The Ocularists Association has a website, but it’s still in the early stages of development. This was one of the things we worked on at the meeting. At the moment, the site has a map on which you can click your state to locate an ocularist in your area. We have great plans for this site to provide both information and education on artificial eyes. One of the important features will be the ability to verify a practitioner’s authenticity as an ocularist. There is no registration requirement for ocularists in Australia, but membership of this Association will assist in the choice of a recognised ocularist.
A major issue that the group is currently addressing is that of health insurance companies not recognising eye prostheses as essential items. If an artificial eye is fitted in hospital, it should fall under the ‘hospital’ table of the insurance policy and would therefore be fully covered by the fund. When subsequent eyes are made in private clinics, they are given separate item numbers and are classified under the non-essential or ‘ancillary’ table of the insurance policy. The result is that patients are then left with a huge gap between the cost of the artificial eye and the refund from the insurance company. We are working with the Health Department to have artificial eyes recognised as essential items.
On this note, to improve things here in Perth, I’m trying to have the first artificial eye included in the invoice issued by the hospital after an enucleation. This would make life a lot easier for patients receiving their first eye.
The group is close to completing two brochures that were mentioned in a blog post in November last year. The ‘Going Home From Hospital’ brochure and the ‘Maintenance of Your Prosthesis’ brochure will be disseminated through hospitals and ophthalmologists. They will give much needed information and support to people following the removal of an eye and beyond.
Another major point of discussion was the need for apprenticeships in our industry. In Australia, there is no formal training for people wanting to become ocularists. And yet this is a highly skilled area of work, requiring much training and supervision. It took both Jenny and me about four years to develop the confidence to work independently and feel comfortable with the service we were providing. The Ocularists Association is drawing up criteria for a comprehensive training program, which will include internships. Just as hospital doctors rotate between wards and hospitals to gain more experience, the apprentice ocularist will move between states to learn from other ocularists.
Exhausted from our long list of agenda items, but very satisfied with our progress, we collapsed by the hotel swimming pool armed with cocktails to quench our thirst. It’s a hard life.