More than 270,000 Australians will experience vision loss or blindness due to a preventable eye condition by 2020, costing the economy AU$16.6 billion per annum,1 according to The State of the Nation Eye Health Report. Additionally, the report predicts that with a rapidly ageing population, vision loss will become the most prevalent condition amongst older Australians.2
The report, published by Specsavers in partnership with the optometric industry, is the most comprehensive look at eye health in Australia and New Zealand. Having analysed more than six million patient journeys, it provides new data and insights on a scale that has not been available before.
Amongst the conditions, 41,900 will stem from glaucoma, 91,300 from macular degeneration, 126,400 from cataracts, and 13,440 from diabetic eye disease – all of which can be asymptomatic and prevented or reduced by a routine eye test.
Accurately detecting, diagnosing, supporting and treating clients in isolation is no longer enough
EYE SIGHT VALUED, BUT NOT PROTECTED
Sixty two per cent of Australians and 67 per cent of New Zealanders value their eyesight, saying it was the sense they would least like to lose. And in Australia, evidence suggests an increasing number of people are pursuing eye examinations – optometric consultations across all Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers increased 51 per cent over the past 10 years and are expected to continue growing at an average of 5 per cent per year. It is predicted that optometric consultations will exceed 9.5 million by 2020 and 12.2 million by 2025. Yet more remains to be done – according to the report, almost four in ten Australians (35 per cent) have not had an eye test in the last year.
Although there is no systematic means of capturing and reporting on optometric services performed by community optometry practices in New Zealand, it is estimated that 781,322 comprehensive eye examinations were performed by optometrists across the country in FY18, representing just 16.6 per cent of the population. Based on a projected 6 per cent annual growth rate in eye examinations, it is estimated that optometric consultations will exceed 917,000 by 2020 and 1.2 million by 2025.
COLLABORATION CALLED FOR
In a joint statement, Specsavers, Glaucoma Australia, Macular Disease Foundation Australia, and Diabetes Australia said, “As an industry, we believe that the way forward in addressing this growing concern is through combined collaborative efforts that are focused on the patient and their health outcome. Accurately detecting, diagnosing, supporting and treating clients in isolation is no longer enough. We need to collaborate further if we want to truly improve health outcomes for patients and work toward a country that no longer has its people living with avoidable blindness and vision loss.”
Specsavers Director of Optometry Professional Advancement, Dr. Benjamin Ashby said The State of the Nation Eye Health Report gives the industry a deeper insight into eye health on a scale unavailable before.
“Use of Oculo has enabled us to aggregate significant health data and uncover trends in eye health that were previously unknown. For example, in the past year, Specsavers optometrists who have introduced optical coherence tomography (OCT) technology and used it systematically on every patient have seen detection rates double for suspected glaucoma. Capturing eye health data has also enabled the creation of industry benchmarking reports, which provide optometrists with the opportunity to understand national average referral rates and ensure their practice is consistent with other practitioners.”
Another collaborative initiative proven to assist Australians with the management of eye conditions is the launch of clear industry guidelines for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmology (RANZCO) CEO, Dr. David Andrews said, “When certain signs or symptoms are identified, the use of the RANZCO guidelines for management of glaucoma, AMD and diabetic retinopathy can assist optometrists, GPs and other health professionals to ensure Australians receive the best care possible, in the most appropriate timeframe and with the appropriate health care provider.”
Annie Gibbins, CEO of Glaucoma Australia said routine eye tests are the first port of call for many who end up with preventable but irreversible blinding eye conditions and is calling on those over the age of 40 to value their eye health by getting their eyes examined by an optometrist.
“If the entire optometric industry implemented collaborative initiatives such as Oculo, benchmarking and the RANZCO Guidelines supported by OCT, it is estimated that more than 80,000 Australians with signs of glaucoma would be detected next year alone,” she said. “We would be a lot closer to eliminating glaucoma blindness, which has no cure and currently affects around 300,000 Australians.”
Dr. Ashby said, “Accurately detecting, diagnosing, supporting and treating clients in isolation is no longer enough. As an industry, we need to collaborate further if we want to truly improve health outcomes for Australians and work toward a country that no longer has its people living with avoidable blindness and vision loss.”
At Optometry Australia, efforts continue to build awareness of the need for regular eye examinations. Lyn Brodie, National CEO said, “Optometry Australia’s Good Vision for Life campaign continues to raise awareness of eye health and encourages the community to get eye exams. Last year the campaign influenced approximately 1.3 million to have an eye exam. Importantly, the number of people who now note they would see an optometrist for excessive watering, redness, pain or discharge associated with their eyes has risen 28 per cent since 2016 when we conducted our pre-campaign survey. The campaign is multi-pronged and we will continue to focus on educating the community on the importance of seeing their optometrist regularly.”
Optometry Australia also continues to lobby government to ensure eye health care is top of mind and that patients can access the care they need from their optometrist to look after their eye health and vision.
“We have completed an extensive submission to inform the MBS Review Task Force in their review of optometry items and will be out in force pre-election to get the message to all parties that there is a need for greater investment to align with community need, and to ensure that all Australians can access timely eye care in accordance with what the evidence shows us is best to promote population eye health.
“We have also taken a targeted approach to ensure that other primary health care practitioners recognise the importance of regular eye health assessments and the role of optometry. We have invested in advertising and CPD to ensure that GPs and pharmacists recognise the importance of referring patients for an assessment from an optometrist,” said Ms. Brodie.
- Access Economics, 2010, Clear Focus: The Economic Impact of Vision Loss in Australia in 2009, A report prepared for Vision 2020 Australia.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics – Census Data 2016 All other information from State of the Nation Eye Health Report, 2018