Free eye health information helpline supports professionals

Post date: 
Thursday, 25 August 2016
Eye Health Team

Eye health and sight loss professionals make use of RNIB’s eye health telephone service that’s dedicated to providing information and advice about sight loss. 

A team of six RNIB eye health specialists with backgrounds in optometry, nursing and information provision, man a phone line between the hours of 9:30 and 16:30 Monday to Friday. 
Matthew Athey, Eye health information service manager, heads up the team. “We aim to provide the people who call us with a greater understanding of their eye condition, the available treatments on offer and help them to make decisions about their treatment,” he explained. The service provides high-quality eye health information that’s tailored to individual caller’s circumstances.

“Each day can vary greatly,” Athey explained. “In a morning, we might speak to someone about what to expect from the laser surgery they need for a complication of cataract surgery, and a parent who wants to understand why their child needs to use glasses and patching to help with a squint, to someone coming to terms with a recent diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa.”

Last year, the team, who have completed RNIB’s four-day Eye Clinic Support Studies course which is accredited by City University London and who also have extensive training in communication skills, helped over 2750 people (April 2015 – March 2016). On a regular basis, the team speak to people with common eye conditions and their friends and family. The team also hear from medical, social care and education professionals who use the phone line to find out information about eye conditions, treatments and to ask questions about their patients which they may not know the answer to.
As well as having expertise on common conditions, the team has developed a wide range of knowledge for rarer eye conditions like Microphthalmia, Birdshot uveitis and Bardet-Biedl syndrome. Athey explained this understanding has come about because of the number of different cases they hear about on a day to day basis.

“We have built up a large knowledge base around support systems available for rarer conditions. We know this to be particularly helpful for professionals who may not regularly see patients or clients with eye conditions. We are happy to chat about any challenges professionals face and know that it can be useful to have a sounding board when dealing with challenging situations.” 

The team can’t diagnose or be prescriptive with what people should or shouldn’t do, but can offer the general information people can use to help make their decisions. “Often we encourage people to have further discussions with their medical team and formulate questions with them that may help when speaking with their ophthalmologist,” Athey explained.
“Many of our callers tell us that after talking to us they have higher level of confidence in dealing with the medical aspects of their eye condition.” 
One anonymous caller, said: “My husband felt that you [RNIB’s eye health team] are the experts in the eye field and the information you gave him was excellent and helpful. It was good to know what we needed to approach the consultant with before the next appointment.”
Online information 
As well as manning the phones and managing a schedule of call back appointments, the eye health team also produce the information RNIB publishes on eye conditions. This includes the Understanding series, 10 information booklets written in conjunction with The Royal College of Ophthalmologists about conditions including AMD, cataract, diabetes, glaucoma, Charles Bonnet syndrome, retinal detachment, retinitis pigmentosa, nystagmus, posterior vitreous detachment and dry eye. All have the Information Standard quality mark. 
Video content
Athey and his team are always looking for new ways to provide callers with vital eye health information. The eye health web pages on RNIB’s site include videos featuring individuals talking about their eye condition, their treatment and how they cope with the changes to their vision. 
How to access the eye health information service
The eye health team phone line is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 to 16:30. To speak to a member of the team, call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 and ask for the eye health team or email queries to [email protected].
Further information
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