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Thursday / May 30.
HomeminewsOptical Dispenser Numbers Disputed

Optical Dispenser Numbers Disputed

Approximately 2,400 qualified optical dispensers are currently practicing in Australia, according to Grant Hannaford, the former Vice President of the Australian Dispensing Opticians Association (NSW) and Principal Optician at Hannaford Eyewear.

This number significantly differs from the statistics quoted in Eyehealth Workforce Numbers in Australia, a report released on 26 May 2016 by the Federal Government. That report stated that as of 2011, there was a total 4,481 optical dispensers (this was the last year for which optical dispensing figures were available). At that time, the report stated there were 4,034 optometrists (as of May 2016 there are 5,130 optometrists).

Mr. Hannaford said tracking the numbers of optical dispensers holding qualifications has become more difficult since deregulation. “We have noted more unqualified people self-identifying as dispensers in the industry. Further clouding the numbers are the moves by larger companies in the industry to train effectively ‘in house’ which means that we are not accurately able to gauge the completion rates or the effective level of education. Last year ADOA estimated some 2,400 current, qualified, optical dispensers based upon the last firm numbers from the days of regulation coupled with registrations with health funds, industry bodies and graduate numbers.”

“In the absence of a national regulatory framework for the profession it is difficult to provide any meaningful data on the number of people doing this,” said Mr. Hannaford. “Certainly there is a degree of credibility attached to the title when dealing with the public so the temptation to use it inappropriately in practice will undoubtedly be there.”

More Seeking Qualifications

Mr. Hannaford said the number of people seeking formal qualifications in the sector has “significantly increased”, citing enrolment numbers at Sydney Institute, which have risen from just 25 in 2012 to around 95 in 2016.Mr. Hannaford said “the trend is indicative of an increased awareness of the importance of optical dispensing in the practice setting.”

Specsavers invests significantly in providing formal training for its optical dispensers. The Australian network of 319 stores has a total of more than 900 Certificate IV qualified optical dispensers – roughly equivalent to an average of three per store.

“We commenced a program in 2012/13 to invest in the Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing qualification,” explained Charles Hornor, Director of Communications at Specsavers. “At that time our store partners committed to having a minimum of two Cert IV qualified optical dispensers in every Specsavers practice by 30 June 2015 – and together we achieved that. However, the program has not stopped there and we now have a current total of 900 plus qualified dispensers across the country.

“Twice each year our stores put forward their next Cert IV candidates who are looked after by the course providers, OTEN, RMIT and TAFE NSW. As a business we work very closely with the providers too to deliver the best combination of technical and in-store development.”

Every member of every store’s dispensing team embarks upon a progressive dispensing development training program, as soon as they start at a Specsavers practice, and at a level dependent on their experience.

Solid Reasons for Certificate

“It’s incredibly important for a number of reasons and two immediate examples spring to mind,” said Mr. Hornor. “Firstly, customers expect that the dispensing and retail staff they are engaging with really do know what they are talking about, whether that is to do with contact lenses, high index ophthalmic lenses, simple single vision lenses or whatever.

“Technical knowledge in addition to experience is a critical factor here. From a practice perspective, that drives ever-higher customer service satisfaction ratings.

“Secondly, formal dispensing training and Cert IV provides a professional career opportunity in a retail setting that is quite unlike any other. While our optometrists can clearly see a pathway to career advancement or ownership even before they set foot in one of our stores, that’s not necessarily the case for young retail and dispensing staff, looking to establish a career. Our dispensing development training program, capped off by the Cert IV qualification, provides clarity on career and ownership options too for all members of our store teams,” Mr. Hornor concluded.

Mr. Hannaford agrees that technical knowledge is increasingly important in a rapidly evolving environment. “What I see as being the core of the optical dispenser’s role in the current environment is to act as a conduit for the developing technologies.

“While the role of optometry is growing and developing there is a real risk for a gap to develop between the results generated in the consultation and the delivery of these results to the patient in their optical appliance. Optical technology is also advancing at a pace that really is quite exciting, while delivering better lenses that are also more complex. The need to develop the technical knowledge of the next generation is paramount in my opinion, as these are the people who will be forming the bridge between the results of the optometric consultation and the expectations of the patient,” said Mr. Hannaford.

Although for most dispensers the more traditional skills of manually edging and fitting lenses may be in decline, Mr. Hannaford said these skills are not completely lost. “I personally have been seeing some movement back towards edging in practices where practitioners are looking for meaningful points of differentiation from their competitors, however this is not the majority of practices,” said Mr. Hannaford.