Alistair Laidlaw, the new President of EURETINA, discusses the challenges and opportunities facing the Society over the next few years
As the field of retina continues to evolve rapidly on all fronts, the European Society of Retina Specialists (EURETINA) has ambitious plans to ensure that the Society keeps pace with the growing needs of its global membership.
Taking over the reins of the Society, the newly-incumbent President Alistair Laidlaw said that he is keen to continue the sterling work of his predecessors in promoting excellence in science, research and education in the fast-moving field of retina.
“We aim to have quite a big transition and expansion in EURETINA. The Society is now 21 and runs the biggest retinal meeting in the world. EURETINA’s evolution has coincided with a huge expansion in the retinal specialty, with important developments in the management of macular degeneration, diabetes, inherited retinal diseases, uveitis and many other diseases. The aim is to take EURETINA from a Society that organizes a big annual face-to-face meeting into one that provides a year-round educational offering for retinal specialists, and also one that influences and sets standards in retinal practice,” he said.
The planned expansion of the Society will build on the extensive work achieved by prior Presidents and Boards and is very much a shared vision that aligns with the broad goals outlined in the EURETINA Roadmap 2025, said Dr Laidlaw.
“We are fortunate to have an excellent and active Board, which has put in place a strategic plan that will span not just the term of my presidency but continue thereafter” he said.
A robust digital offering
In concrete terms, a key part of the ambition is to expand the Society’s digital offering, transforming the website from a limited storefront into a dynamic resource centre packed with information, education and news tailored specifically for retinal specialists.
“We have already begun this process with the revamped website, and will be offering a wide range of continually updated educational content such as webinars, podcasts and a EURETINA Case Club which will focus on particularly interesting patient cases. We will also be setting up subspecialty sections, comprising experts in each particular field, to curate the content that goes out for each subspecialty and ensuring that the highest standards are maintained,” he said.
Standard setting and advocacy
Dr Laidlaw also envisages EURETINA playing a more active role in standard-setting in all aspects of retinal practice to achieve high-quality care and safeguard patient safety.
“There are two key roles in which we want to develop: firstly, we aim to reinvigorate the guidelines programme in order to help our members make informed, evidence-based decisions about appropriate care for specific retinal disorders. Secondly, we are planning to establish the first subspecialty exam for medical and surgical retina in conjunction with the European Board of Ophthalmology. It will be a theory exam and the idea is for successful candidates to have demonstrated the level of expertise in retina required to be an independent practitioner,” he said.
The overarching aim of these initiatives is to develop the quality of patient care, said Dr Laidlaw.
“Advocacy is important in terms of providing patients with information on their condition, their prognosis, treatment options and support. But we also need advocacy at a political level to highlight unmet research needs and clinical provision levels. In this regard we have to engage with key stakeholders and policy-makers at national and European levels.”
Dr Laidlaw said that the Board was also looking at ways to bolster its research offering, particularly in areas that traditionally attract less funding from industry partners.
“We hope to expand our annual research funding call and support initiatives such as registry-based research for rare retinal diseases and those which are not likely to be commercially funded. We will also continue to support pivotal multi-centre trials such as the ongoing TIGER trial on submacular haemorrhage and age-related macular degeneration within the limits of our resources,” he said.
Another important goal for Dr Laidlaw over his two-year term of office is to promote diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity.
EURETINA has already launched a Women in Retina programme to support the professional development of promising female retina specialists, and Dr Laidlaw believes that the Society can encourage similar initiatives to further promote equality.
“Diversity is very important. We know that 50% of those who attend the annual congress are female, and while we don’t have data on ethnicity, a large proportion are clearly not of Caucasian ethnicity. Our aspiration is that the Board and teaching faculty will increasingly reflect the delegates in terms of diversity, we are well aware that there’s work to be done in that respect,” he said.
Rather than simply paying lip service to the idea of greater diversity, Dr Laidlaw believes that actions speak louder than words. ‘We should be judged on whether there has been a visible increase in diversity’ he said.
Young ophthalmologists will also continue to be an important focus for EURETINA in the years ahead, said Dr Laidlaw.
“It’s really about making sure that we have got proper representation across the board, because the younger retinal specialists are the future of our profession. As well as supporting the Young Retina Specialists (YOURS) programme, which has become an integral feature of the annual Congress, all the subspecialty groups in EURETINA will be asked to include younger rising talents in their ranks,” he said.
The future is hybrid
The EURETINA annual congress, which has drawn upwards of 5,000 delegates in recent years, will continue to represent the beating heart of the Society. After two successful virtual congresses in 2020 and 2021, Dr Laidlaw believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has durably changed delegates’ expectations in terms of the meeting experience.
“I think the future of these meetings is going to be hybrid. The pandemic is just too unpredictable at the moment and so it would be very unwise not to hedge in that respect for our meeting in Hamburg in September 2022. I also believe that people will want to consume education in different ways in the future. The meeting, which runs several parallel streams simultaneously, typically offers way more content than any individual can possibly attend physically. It’s also not possible for many people to attend in person for one reason or another. So, to have a single live outlet for our educational offering is unwise. We need to be able to stream content both during and after the meeting and to have the website build educational resources based on the meeting content in addition to the year-round offering. We have already seen more people viewing congress playback than ‘attended live’”, he said.
Although the goals set for the next few years are undoubtedly ambitious and wide-ranging, Dr Laidlaw firmly believes that EURETINA can continue to raise the bar in serving the needs of the global retinal community.
“They are undoubtedly lofty aims that we have set for ourselves, and they are ones which take us firmly out of the realms of being just meeting organisers and into something more professional and multifaceted. However, it doesn’t mean that the goals are not realistic or not worth trying to address,” he concluded.