The future of education is virtual

The future of education is virtual

Excerpted from page 20 of the October 2016 edition of AOA Focus 

Imagine identifying a retinal tear via binocular indirect ophthalmoscope (BIO) long before you are face to face with a patient. Or imagine taking the plunge into owning your first practice without having to front any money.

Technology is driving where the profession is going.

That's exactly what a growing number of optometry students are doing. Colleges of optometry are increasingly taking virtual and simulated approaches to preparing the next wave of students using high-tech means, says Clifford Scott, O.D., M.P.H., president of New England College of Optometry (NECO).  

"Technology is driving where the profession is going," says Dr. Scott. "We are training students for 2020, to be successful in the next decade. That means anticipating what the health care world is going to look like in 2020. And it means adapting the learning technologies we need to introduce to students for them to be successful."  

Spotting eye pathologies on screen

Today at the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Optometry, first- and second-year students are likely to find themselves practicing vision tests on patients who don't blink or wince at bright lights being shone in their eyes. 

They're virtual. A handful of stations are equipped with molded plastic models of a face, a companion headset for the student and a lens, to help students learn to use BIOs to diagnose pathology. When students hold the lens up to the face and switch on the headset, they see through the headset what they would see deep in the retina.  

First they learn to use the lens by identifying shapes—"like a video game," says Matthew Bovenzi, O.D., assistant chief of primary care at SUNY College of Optometry. Then, they work their way up to identifying conditions such as macular degeneration, retinal holes or tears and glaucoma. In the process, they learn how to aim the light just right and catch a problem—without worrying that they're taking too long or causing the patient discomfort.  

The hope, says Dr. Bovenzi, is that learning the skill in a low-pressure situation will make them more adept when a real patient is in front of them.  

"Some pathologies are rare, but you could see them every day in the simulation lab," he says. "Patients, we think, will feel more comfortable if they know their doctor had seen a retinal detachment or hole before."  

The college is one of a handful in the country using the virtual systems to educate students. And while SUNY will continue to instruct students using the BIO the traditional way—by dilating the eyes of fellow students and using them as mock patients—Dr. Bovenzi says this adds to their arsenal of educational tools.  

Practice management: Welcome to Mayfield

When it comes to training for success, David Mills, O.D., realized in 2007 that colleges could take a new approach to practice management—a virtual one: What if students could learn business before student loans come due?  

What if you could make all the usual ­first-year business mistakes without any of the consequences?  

"You're playing with house money here," Dr. Mills says he tells his students, who use a practice simulation as part of his practice management course at NECO. "So go all in."  

The house money comes in the form of a practice simulation program designed by Dr. Mills that a technology company called IIBD built on a platform and funded through Essilor. It all takes place in a ­ fictional town called May­field. Dr. Mills named the town after the one in the TV show "Leave It to Beaver," but that's where the similarities end. The town is equipped with five practices for sale and 50,000 to 60,000 potential patients—the elderly, young professionals and families, all with different vision issues and needs.  

Small groups of students band together, evaluate the fair market value of the practices and their locations, make a bid and decide on their specialty. Then the simulation runs. At the end of it, they ­find out if they made a good bet or a bad one and whether the practice is successful or not.  

The simulation is already available and in use at about 10 different colleges of optometry. But its future may be outside academia. Dr. Mills has already invited NECO's faculty and doctors in private practice to play around with it. He imagines a future where professionals bene­fit from the simulation, too.  

"That's the next stage of this," says Dr. Mills. "In the next few years, I'd love to see a practice model of this customized for the private practitioner."

October 28, 2016

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