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HomeminewsFuture Of Optometry Open to Discussion

Future Of Optometry Open to Discussion

Medicare fees were one of the biggest topics of discussion at an evening dedicated to the future of optometry held in Sydney during May.

Nearly 80 optometrists convened in Burwood to discuss strategies and direction for the future with an expert panel comprising Optometry Australia’s current National President, Andrew Hogan, the current Chair of the Optometry Board of Australia, Ian Bluntish, Optometry NSW/ACT CEO, Andrew McKinnon, State President of Optometry NSW/ACT, Christine Craigie, State Vice President of Optometry NSW/ ACT, Luke Cahill, Vice President of OA NSW, and State and National Councillor for Optometry NSW/ACT, Steve Zantos.

The event was organised by optometrists Carina Trinh and Margaret Lam, Luke Cahill and fellow councillors from the Member Services Committee for Optometry NSW/ACT.

Key concerns raised included the inadequacy of Medicare fees to cover practice clinic operation costs, in terms of consult time and instrumentation, and unreasonable restraints on payment of benefits, especially for an increasingly myopic youth and teenage population. Attendees also discussed the need to manage a transition to fee for service paid by the patient. Optometrists felt their skills were undervalued and the public perception of optometry as a profession was undervalued because patients are used to paying no fee for service due to bulk billing.

What we do in democracies is talk to each other. Our Association is strong when we listen to our members and start a conversation

Scope of practice and the ability to specialise were also discussed on the evening with attendees expressing the need for recognition of specialties in optometry so that public know who to visit for specific issues. It was felt that more frequent inter-practitioner referrals would demonstrate to Medicare the extent and value to patients of speciality knowledge.

Many attendees expressed concerns over the number of optometrists emerging from universities and the unequal distribution of optometrists across the country. Other discussions centred around the impact of increasing corporatisation on clinical practice and competition as well as competition from online retailer of eyewear.

Recent Young Optometrist of the Year, Shaun Cheng attended the meeting and said he was impressed with the positive approach taken. “Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities. Most of us did not ‘whinge’ over things that cannot be controlled. Instead, we worked towards genuine solutions that could benefit the profession. This is just the start and I encourage future attendance at similar events. The number of standout optometrists in attendance inspired me to be better.”

Early career optometrist Kevin Trac, who is currently building his own independent practice, described it as a worthwhile experience. “It was good to understand the issues Optometry Australia is working towards. If we can do more, and have more people interested, we could have a better voice so everyone else can address their issues too, it would build a stronger profession.”

Andrew Hogan reflected on the outcome of the evening from an Optometry Australia perspective. “The Future of Optometry event was a true grass roots event that is so important for our profession. It was just fantastic to hear from everyday members who are facing challenges in a real climate of change.

“On the night, I said that what we do in democracies is talk to each other. Our Association is strong when we listen to our members and start a conversation. “I was really impressed with the questions that were asked and indeed with the ideas that were presented. It’s no surprise to anyone that my passion is communicating, and the evening was a fantastic example of how open and honest communication is always the best thing.”

Carina Trinh said the event was informative. “The expert panel provided much insight into the limitations and possibilities in each area, and guidance as to where our next steps may be. Andrew Hogan and Ian Bluntish flew in from Tasmania and South Australia and provided a unique opportunity to address queries by putting into context how government bodies would perceive certain strategies, and for us to consider alternatives that may achieve the same result.”

Optometrist Margaret Lam said as the first ever event of its kind, the evening succeeded in reaching out and engaging fellow optometrists about challenges faced in practice. “It also showed that Optometry Australia is inclusive and responsive. We wanted to examine current challenges to our optometry practice and workshop potential options to address these challenges.”

Fellow councillors Heidi Hunter and Mark Koszek played key roles for the evening. Heidi acted as scribe to capture all discussion around member’s challenges, and Mark discussed next steps around working groups and subcommittee formation to problem solve. Optometry Australia’s NSW/ACT division plans to prioritise raised concerns in subsequent council meetings, and communicate back to members progress and outcomes from the intense discussion and insights from the successful evening.

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