Students, doctors hack their way to helping school nurses educate parents about pediatric eye care

July 17, 2017
Hackathon to yield prototype by the end of the year.
Hackathon to yield prototype by the end of the year

The task: Design an application to educate patients and parents on the importance of vision and hearing in the learning process.

The contenders: Sixty smart, imaginative and eager optometry students divided into teams.

Four hours later, creative digital solutions were reached for enlightening doctors, parents and school nurses on children's vision. For instance, there were presentations for apps that educate parents about the steps in their child's development; describe and simulate eye conditions and diseases that may become evident in the classroom; and alert them to appointments with their eye doctors. It was all part of the June 24 State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry's Hackathon lll: Interprofessional Patient Education at Optometry's Meeting®.

What's next for these worthy ideas?

"We have much to do now that the hackathon is over," says Thomas Wong, O.D., director of new technologies at SUNY College of Optometry and organizer of the hackathon. "The student-led teams came up with some great ideas. We will look at all of them closely as we first try to make the application to educate patients and parents on the importance of vision and hearing in the learning process a reality.

"We are hoping to have a prototype ready by the end of calendar year 2017," Dr. Wong adds. "Also, we are working on creating a website to house and make available the results and ideas from all three of our hackathons."

Two previous SUNY hackathons focused on the future of eye exams and optometric education.

In the U.S., 1 in 5 preschool children have vision problems and 1 in 4 school-age youngsters wear corrective lenses. The AOA continues to lead the way in calling out eye and vision problems in children as a significant public health problem. Vision has an enormous impact on quality of life for children, impacting their achievement socially, cognitively and academically.

Hacking a solution

Hackathons are collaborations that are designed to yield digital solutions to real world problems or challenges. Among the optometry students and doctors of optometry were Beth Mattey then president of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), and Ashley Darcy-Mahoney, assistant professor and neonatal nurse practitioner, director of infant research at The George Washington University.

Both children's advocates provided optometry students with a snapshot of the challenges they encounter. Citing the role school nurses play in students' overall health including their vision, Mattey said she hoped to leverage the knowledge of the optometry students and doctors of optometry at Optometry's Meeting to help children and their parents be more proactive when it comes to their children's eye care.

She noted that about 39% of schools across the country have full-time school nurses, according to a NASN workforce study. About 25% of schools do not employ a school nurse.

"We are on the front lines," she said. "But there's a lot more to be done."

Added Mattey, after the hackathon: "I was very impressed with the innovative solutions the optometry student teams developed to educate parents on the importance of eye health and good vision. All of the teams recognized school nurses as partners supporting children and families."

During the hackathon, Munish Sharma, M.D., O.D., talked to students about the importance of interprofessional collaboration in order to successfully provide patient-centered care in the ever-changing landscape of health care delivery. Dr. Sharma also reinforced the value added by early introduction of interprofessional education in optometry curriculum. Dr. Sharma is a member of the AOA Evidence-Based Optometry Committee and an assistant professor in the Western University College of Optometry.

"You guys did a great job," Cliff Scott, O.D., M.P.H., president of the New England College of Optometry, said before announcing the winning team, The Lakers, which included students from SUNY and faculty from Southern California College of Optometry.

"This was, for me, being an educator, the highlight of the conference because I do feel this next generation of optometrists is going to make the changes necessary to be a part of the health care system," Dr. Scott said. "Not just part of it, but to be at the center of the vision part of the health care system. So, congratulations!"

It takes a village

At the Lakers' table, team members pumped their fists in the air and exchanged smiles and high fives.

Emily Ellingson, fourth-year student in the SUNY College of Optometry, described the Lakers' winning presentation:

"The app we developed as a team was called, 'Complete Baby,'" Ellingson said. "Essentially, it was trying to create a link between the parents and health practitioners, whether that be an optometrist or an audiologist or a pediatric nurse to make sure it is an integrated health care team taking care of a child. We really wanted to educate parents and raise awareness about different eye conditions and diseases parents should be looking for in their children."

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