Keeping an Eye on the Future

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever visited a physician and stared at the walls of paper charts and printed forms, that the medical profession is amongst the last to incorporate digital technology into its’ every day operations. Change does not come easy, or without a price, in today’s medical environment. After all, modernizing medicine is not a task to be undertaken lightly. It requires the knowledge of professionals who have experience, determination and a vision for the future. Reinventing how healthcare is delivered requires not only thinking outside of the box, but the ability to form a cohesive team replete with the skills necessary to get the job done today and the vision to solve novel problems that will emerge tomorrow. Most importantly, there has to be measurable benefits in practice efficiency and improved patient outcomes. To have even a remote chance of success, a multidisciplinary partnership needs to be created between the private and public sectors. As an edupreneur, I chose to partner with a well-known and highly successful entrepreneur and formulate a unique partnership between the academics of Palm Beach State College (PBSC) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and a company that has created a state of the art electronic health records (EHR) system, Florida’s own, Modernizing Medicine. Our goal is an ambitious one: to seamlessly integrate EHR systems into the training of the next generation of ophthalmic medical technicians, with the skills required for the ophthalmic practice of the future, and raise the standard for practicing ophthalmic technicians of today.

As Professor and Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmic Medical Technology at PBSC, and a practicing ophthalmologist specializing in cataract and refractive surgery, I capitalized on my own clinical experience and a lifetime in ophthalmic medical education, to develop the nation’s first totally digital ophthalmic medical technology program. This effort was undertaken with the support and approval of one of Florida’s largest colleges (ranked 8th in the nation in granting associate degrees with more than 48,000 students from 165 countries) and one of the nation’s largest ophthalmic communities (located in Palm Beach County). Developing the program took seven years of hard work which involved overcoming daily obstacles, a multitude of academic approvals, curriculum and course development, and ultimately the hiring of a world class faculty representing the three “O’s” of eyecare: ophthalmology, optometry and opticianry. The two-year, full-time academic and clinical hands-on program grants an Associate in Science degree in Ophthalmic Medical Technology following an intensive didactic education and hands on training. The goal of the program is to train competent and highly skilled Ophthalmic Medical Technologists (OMTs) who will assist ophthalmologists in the evaluation and diagnosis of ocular disease, perform advanced specialized testing and assist the surgeon in the operating room. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there is a nationwide need for more than 6,000 ophthalmic technicians. With their advanced level of training, graduates are highly sought after and rapidly placed in ophthalmic surgical practices.

All students learn how to use the EHR system throughout the program, from the first day of matriculation to the last day at graduation. We have chosen to adopt Modernizing Medicine’s Electronic Medical Assistant® (EMA™) as our platform. EMA Ophthalmology® fits perfectly with our digital learning environment. All students are given an iPad upon matriculation, which they use to access all resource materials, lectures, video, audio and graphic materials, as well as HIPAA compliant e-texts. EMA Ophthalmology software works seamlessly with our program as students enter patient data directly into their iPad, first in simulation, and then as they take clinical photos, upload graphics and interface smoothly with the EHR system – all at the point of care.

Having a state college work so closely with a private healthcare IT company allows synergies that would be impossible in any other setting. Modernizing Medicine’s EMA is transforming how healthcare information is created, consumed, and utilized. Our students have learned in the clinic and ultimately in private practice that EMA proficiency increases efficiency and improves outcomes. It is a unique approach whose benefits are tangible. The college can best prepare its students for the needs of today’s workforce, and ophthalmology and industry benefit by having access to recent graduates with the skill sets required to bring immediate value to the practices. In the next phase of co-curricular course development with our community, the program at PBSC will offer online continuing education for practicing ophthalmic technicians. What will be the greatest benefit to the medical profession? Patients will have providers proficient in a proven state-of-the-art digital technology can improve their outcomes. Was it worth all the work and effort? The next time you enter a state of the art digital medical practice, you decide.

Aaron Stoklosa
Aaron Stoklosa

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