By Patrick Hutchens
The Brien Holden Vision Institute has developed a new, state-of-the-art virtual refractor to help optometry students learn refraction through online simulation.
The virtual refractor was launched on 7 October at the American Academy of Optometry conference in New Orleans.
The online portal replaces a pioneering virtual refractor program developed in 1998 by Dr Jack Alexander from the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences at UNSW, which was used to help train optometry students around the world.
The project leader of the virtual refractor at the institute, Neilsen De Souza, said there were essentially unlimited types of patients in the simulation that could be used to practise refraction.
‘There are certain preset patients that you have to work on, but the virtual refractor is unique in the sense that the back-end system is based on calculations of how the eye behaves during a refraction,’ he said.
The virtual refractor will be used as a teaching aid for lectures, for small group demonstrations, and for individual practice and assessment.
The simulation places a refractor head on virtual patients who have various prescriptions and profiles, and who respond to test charts and questions regarding the effects of lens combinations introduced by the examiner.
‘Ultimately, we built it because we thought that students and educators across the world should have access to the latest technology, to improve student engagement and really allow students to have some sort of self-directed learning, so that they can actually go in there and practise at home, in a non-threatening environment,’ he said.
The institute hopes to continue developing the virtual refractor so that it can simulate a full eye test.
To reflect the varying responses that patients have when given new lenses, the developers aim to add more binocular vision to the simulator to enhance the realism of patient responses.
In addition, the virtual refractor portal will eventually play host to international refraction competitions between optometry students. Students will be able to benchmark their performance against others in their country and around the world.
The target audience for the virtual refractor is academics and educators who teach or supervise refraction.
All the optometry schools in Australia have free access to the virtual refractor through the Vision Link program, a joint initiative of Essilor and the Brien Holden Vision Institute.
Optometrist Michael Morton and online developer Barry Brown contributed to the design, development and deployment of the Virtual Refractor.