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NZ eye specialist Elected President of RANZCO

NZ eye specialist Elected President of RANZCO

A Kiwi eye specialist has been elected as the current President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, a position historically held by Australians.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) - is a professional association which brings together eye specialists across New Zealand and Australia for continued training, education, research and advocacy.

Dr Stephen Best from Auckland Eye says he is honoured to be elected President of RANZCO, and sees it as part of the ongoing professional contribution to the future of eye care in both countries during his term.

Dr Best says in New Zealand, there are several urgent issues that will come to a head in the next few years as we face the harsh realities of an ageing population. "It is natural for human eyesight to deteriorate with age, so it's important that people are aware of getting regular eye check-ups. Most adults first start noticing blurred reading vision in their mid forties this is often the first time they have had an eye test which could pick up potentially blinding diseases such as glaucoma.

"With increasing age cataract and macular degeneration can cause symptoms of vision loss that prompt a visit to an eye care professional; it's important to get beyond the Kiwi attitude of 'she'll be right mate,' and make an appointment," says Dr Best.

In both New Zealand and Australia one of the most pressing issues is making sure we have sufficient eye care professionals to look after people with eye problems.

Health Work Force New Zealand is very keen to see ophthalmology and optometry work together collaboratively to form 'eye care teams', to ensure accessibility and affordability of care in a timely fashion for all patients across New Zealand says Dr Best.

One of the current developments which is likely to be useful for rural and remote areas is tele-ophthalmology; where images of both the front and back of the eye can be captured digitally and then sent via the net for expert opinion and decision making.

"We have been doing this for some time by photographing the retina of diabetic patients to diagnose a potentially sight threatening condition termed diabetic retinopathy and with early diagnosis and treatment vision can be saved for these patients," says Dr Best.

Dr Best says there are many small rural communities where people cannot easily access the services of an eye specialist, which could be problematic for patients with serious diseases who need regular, ongoing management.

"We now have the technology available for local optometrists and GP's within remote areas to consult eye specialists living in one of the larger cities and receive diagnoses and recommendations through a combination of email, Skype and phone," says Dr Best.

One of the key areas Dr Best would like to continue exploring, through both RANZCO and specialist clinics like Auckland Eye, is how best to continue the provision of ophthalmology services to the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. For several years many of the Auckland Eye specialists have given time to do this through volunteer trips.

"After many years of doing work across the Pacific, my colleagues and I think that now is the best time to step up the educational aspect and train local eye specialists so these specialised skills are not as reliant on aid from the west," he says.

Recently, RANZCO has been significantly involved in providing ophthalmic education to help train local ophthalmologists at the Pacific Eye Institute in Suva, which has been made possible by funding from Fred Hollow's NZ.

Another area of interest for Dr Best is the maintenance of professional standards of care. RANZCO recently adopted a Code of Conduct which focuses on the ethics of practice, ways of engaging with industry in an impartial manner and professional collaboration between ophthalmologists and optometrists which focuses on the best interests of the patient.

Dr Best says RANZCO also plays an important role in the education of trainees that currently takes place in hospitals, but in the future teaching within private multi-subspecialty practices such as Auckland Eye may become a viable option.

Dr Best is a glaucoma and neuro-ophthalmology specialist and cataract surgeon for Auckland Eye and originally hails from the West Coast.

Dr Best completed his undergraduate medical school training at the University of Otago and spent time working in Christchurch, Waikato and Auckland before going overseas to complete his specialist glaucoma and neuro-ophthalmology training at the prestigious Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.

He has been an active member of RANZCO for the past 15 years and served in numerous roles, including as branch chair of the NZ branch of RANZCO,on the RANZCO Board for 10 years, and most recently, as Vice President of the College. Dr Best's presidency will last for a term of 1-2 years.

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