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Online course helps AOA members address TBI

November 18, 2011

With neurological conditions representing a growing problem for the American health care system, the AOA’s new Neuro-Ophthalmic Disorders Board Certification Review Course provides practicing optometrists an easy, efficient way to begin taking a more active role in helping the thousands of military veterans, older adults and accident victims who suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to instructor Leonard Messner, O.D., the Illinois College of Optometry’s vice president for patient care services and executive director of the Illinois Eye Institute.

“Traumatic brain injuries often manifest as ocular problems,” Dr. Messner emphasized. “Optometrists must be able to accurately diagnose TBI-related eye problems not just for the sake of correcting the patient’s vision, but to ensure the patient is referred for other appropriate TBI care. Many patients with TBI may not seek regular, preventive health care and may learn they have sustained neurological injury only after experiencing a vision problem. The optometrist’s office can be an important entry point to the health care system for a TBI patient.”

As the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, unprecedented numbers of veterans are returning with undiagnosed concussive head injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense (DoD).

The aging of the American population is expected to result in a rapidly increasing number of older adults who suffer TBI as a result of falls or strokes, Dr. Messner notes.

Concern is growing over neurological injuries sustained in the course of sporting events or recreational activities, he adds. Vehicle accidents represent an ongoing source of traumatic head injuries.

Not surprisingly, optometrists are already noticing an increase in patients with neurological disorders, according to AOA surveys.

More than three-quarters (78.5 percent) of AOA-member optometrists, responding to the most recent AOA New Technology Survey, reported seeing one or more patients who suffer from neurological insult over the previous 12 months – with the typical practice seeing 11. 

Nearly a third (29.5 percent) of those optometrists would now list care for neuro-ophthalmic disorders among the services readily offered in their practices.

More than half (52.9 percent) say they can provide such care when TBI patients present, according to the survey. 

However, that means nearly three in every five optometrists are still not providing care for neuro-ophthalmic disorders, and some 59.1 percent of those practitioners report they do not have an optometrist nearby to whom they can refer patients for such care. 

Only about one in seven optometrists (14.4 percent) are affiliated with a rehabilitation center, clinic or hospital that treats patients with neurological insults.

Like many other online courses offered through the AOA’s new EyeLearn™ optometric online continuing education portal, the Neuro-Ophthalmic Disorders Board Certification Review Course is intended in large part to assist optometrists who are preparing to seek American Board of Optometry certification, Dr. Messner said.

However, it was also developed to help optometrists across the nation provide more services for those with neuro-ophthalmic disorders, he emphasized.

“The course serves to demonstrate how, using online education opportunities, even the busiest optometrists can find time to enhance their professional knowledge – even in some of the most advanced areas of practice – and perhaps add new services or areas of emphasis to their offices, Dr. Messner said. 

The course provides a comprehensive overview of the basics of care for neuro-ophthalmic conditions in just less than five hours (289 minutes total) through a series of interactive learning modules, ranging in length from five to 85 minutes.

An opening review of afferent system disorders (optic neuropathies) is followed by a concise explanation of the evaluation of diplopia.

An extensive discussion of cranial neuropathies and related disorders of the pupil is broken into two roughly one-hour segments.

The course concludes with a one-hour lecture on brainstem motility disorders and nystagmus and then a half-hour review on headaches of neuro-ophthalmic significance.

As with all EyeLearn™ courses, the interactive learning modules allow practitioners to log on and access the learning materials whenever they are ready.

The electronic format allows them to pause at any point and return to the course later.

They can immediately repeat a unit if they do not adequately understand the material covered.

Each unit comes with one or more self-assessment quizzes that appear periodically.

Course handouts are provided on the Web site.

Course takers can even follow the speaker word-for-word using course transcripts that are also provided on the site. 

In addition to interactive learning modules, practitioners can easily access supplemental resources such as AOA Optometric Clinical Practice Guidelines and articles from Optometry: Journal of the American Optometric Association as well as a range of pre-recorded audio or video lectures.

A Continuing Education (CE) Finder feature allows optometrists to find appropriate classroom continuing education programs on care for neuro-ophthalmic disorders and related subjects, offered by state optometric associations, regional optometric organizations, and the AOA.

“With the HHS, DoD, senior citizen organizations, and sports safety advocates all urging health care practitioners to make care for TBI more widely available, there has never been a better time for optometrists to offer services for patients with neuro-ophthalmic disorders in their practices,” said Dr. Messner. “The new EyeLearn™ Neuro-Ophthalmic Disorders Board Certification Review Course can make it easier than ever to begin.”

The EyeLearn™ online education portal is an exclusive AOA member benefit. AOA members can take courses and access materials free of charge.

The optometric education portal can be accessed at www.aoa.org/eyelearn.

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