An increase in vision loss and eye diseases in Australia will significantly impact the economy unless Australians are made more aware of the value of optometry services and the need for regular eye health screening for vision loss and disease.
Speaking at an eye-health screening event at Parliament House in Canberra today, the Chairman of Optometry Australia Andrew Harris said close to 12 million Australians – more than 50 per cent of the population – have reported long-term eye conditions, but 80 per cent of all visual impairment is preventable or avoidable. For socially disadvantaged and remote communities, eye and vision problems are even more acute, due to health-care costs and lack of access to healthcare professionals.
Access Economics estimated that the total economic cost of vision loss in Australia was AU$16.6 billion in 2009 – or approximately $28,000 per person aged 40 and over with vision loss. This cost to the local economy will rise significantly if forecasts from Clear Focus are correct – the number of vision impaired people aged 40 years and older is predicted to rise by 39 per cent to almost 801,000 by 2020 with the number of those people who are blind, to rise to over 100,000 (Clear Focus, The Economic Impact of Vision Loss in Australia, Vision 2020, 2009).
Timely access to primary eye-care can significantly reduce this health and economic burden.
“Optometrists, in partnership with other primary healthcare professionals, play a crucial role in the early detection and management of many eye diseases and vision complaints, including refractive errors, glaucoma and macular degeneration,” said Mr. Harris.
Currently Australia’s 4,648 optometrists provide care to more than 7.6 million patient visits each year. Yet, according to Mr. Harris, there is still general confusion about what optometry can offer the community.
A recent survey of more than 250 optometrists found that the public’s perception of optometry must be improved if our quality eye healthcare needs are to be met.
“Optometrists play a vital role in preventing eye-health issues by providing clinical services, patient advice and treatment solutions. Still, many people choose to remain untested, or to be tested infrequently, despite the fact most eye and vision problems are preventable with early detection by an eye-care professional such as an optometrist.
“For many people, eye and vision problems affect their ability to perform everyday activities – such as read, drive, study and even work. This has a significant impact on society through reduced productivity,” Mr. Harris said.