Talented ophthalmic photographer sweeps the floor at UK conference awards

An exceptionally talented eye photographer at Wirral University Teaching Hospital (WUTH) swept the floor at the recent Ophthalmic Imaging Association (OIA) Conference.

The photographer took away three awards and won an all-expenses-paid trip to the American Ophthalmic Photographers’ Society annual conference in Chicago in 2024.

Rob Hancock, Specialist Ophthalmic Photographer, won first place in two out of four prize categories – one for his photograph of an anterior segment (the front of the eye) and one for his angiography photograph (an imaging technique used to photograph blood vessels). His angiography image took another prize, when it went on to be announced as the overall winner.

The winning photographs were selected for their image quality and the technical skill needed to acquire them.

This is not the first time Rob has won awards for his photography. In 2021 he won an OIA prize for a posterior segment photograph, also going on to become overall winner. In 2022 he won second place in the international Haag Streit slit lamp* competition, pitching himself against the best eye photographers from around the world.

As a young man, Rob was inspired to pursue photography by his dad, who was an ophthalmic photographer at Aintree Hospital. “I had actually applied to go to University to study music, but I saw an opportunity to become a diabetic screening photographer via the Central Mersey programme, applied for it and ended up being offered the job – so I had to decide which route to take! I chose to become a diabetic eye photographer and have never looked back.”

Rob joined WUTH’s Eye Clinic in 2016. He said, “My role now is very different to what I was doing, say, 10 years ago. There are lots of new technologies that make eye photography even more valuable. I’m also now trained to review certain patients with conditions that are classed as being stable, and to refer to a medical specialist when appropriate, so my role has evolved and is just as rewarding today as when I first started.”

Ophthalmic imaging is a specialised form of medical imaging, focused on the documentation and diagnosis of eye conditions. High-quality eye photographs are a really important part of the overall diagnosis and treatment of patients in the Eye Clinic. Obtaining these photographs requires a great deal of skill and training. Rob and his team of 5 ophthalmic imagers are supported in their professional development, through courses and other learning opportunities.

Dr Gillian Rudduck, Head of Optometry, said, “It’s wonderful that Rob has received this accolade from peers in the specialism. Rob is a fantastic example of how a multidisciplinary team uses the strengths of its members to ensure the highest quality of care is delivered to our patients. I am incredibly proud of Rob and his team.”

Executive Medical Director, Dr Nikki Stevenson said, “Our Eye Clinic service is of utmost importance to the Trust and our patients. In order to provide a high-quality service not only do we make sure we support our staff in their personal development, but we have also invested in the very latest equipment.”

In recent years the Trust has invested in leading-edge retinal scanning equipment including Heidelberg Engineering Spectralis and an Optos ultra-wide retinal imaging device, considered one of the best available for imaging the retina (the film at the back of the eye).

Because the Trust now provides cornea transplant surgery to its patients, the need for equally high-quality imaging devices for the front of the eye became essential. So, recently the Trust has invested further in a Haag-Streit BX 900 photographic slit lamp and a Heidelberg Engineering ANTERION, giving our patients the very best imaging possible to aid the clinicians in diagnosis and monitoring of a broad range of conditions affecting the cornea and front of the eye.

Having such an extensive range of high-quality equipment means that the hospital no longer has to rely solely on doctors’ drawings and written descriptions. Photographs provide a highly accurate and clear reference for diagnosis and management of eye conditions, and they can also show things that the naked eye can’t see.

Rob said, “I love working in the WUTH Eye Clinic. There is a wonderful team ethic. All the consultants, doctors, optometrists and other clinicians are really helpful and supportive, and I have a brilliant team of ophthalmic photographers and technicians.

“My job is really rewarding because I take images of everything the doctors can see and more, tracking a vast range of different eye conditions. There is no better form of documentation than a high-quality picture. Hundreds of patients are seen every day in the Eye Clinic, ranging from new-born babies to elderly people, and most patients will have some form of imaging carried out, either to support diagnosis or monitoring the progress of their condition.”

The use of photography has also helped the Trust to improve the efficiency of the service and provide a better patient experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eye Clinic introduced virtual clinics and this has revolutionised the service.

Some patients now only need to attend a short appointment at Arrowe Park Hospital to have their eye photographs taken and their vision checked. The images are subsequently reviewed by a doctor or consultant and discussed during a virtual appointment with the patient. The new process has led to reduced waiting times and faster time to treatment, which is all ultimately about making things better for patients.

* A slit lamp is an eye examination instrument with a high-intensity light source that can be focused to shine a thin sheet of light into the eye.

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