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HomemioptometryWhy We Can’t Live Without Optometry

Why We Can’t Live Without Optometry

The clinical services provided by optometrists have far greater impacts for society than meets the eye. Perhaps it’s time to take pride and talk more about this contribution to quality of life.

When I started as CEO at Optometry Victoria South Australia (OV/SA) in February this year, I was looking forward to better understanding the contribution of optometry to our communities.

I hope that all optometrists also see themselves as part of a vital network that is enabling our communities to continue to function, and even flourish

My previous role was as CEO at Meaningful Ageing Australia, a not-for-profit start-up. The organisation exists to engage with community and residential aged care services to ensure meaning, purpose and connectedness are part of every ageing journey. I had landed there after a couple of decades focussed on how services can best understand and respond to the person in front of them. Complimented by a Master of Public Health, quality of life has been a key theme for my work over many years.

OV/SA’s strategic plan, which is closely linked to the optometry federation’s national plan, includes engaging with the wider community to help them understand the value of optometry. I can’t help wondering if talking about the incredible contribution of optometry to quality of life might be one way to do this.

I wonder if we are talking enough about the terrible impact on a person when they can’t get the services they need. As an example, the fact that there are people in Australia going blind while waiting to be seen in our public health system, and that this has massive flow-on effects including social disconnection, which in turn leads to increased risk of depression and dependency on other supports.

On the flipside, there is the positive contribution of optometry to quality of life for many thousands of people, every day, from coast to coast. In the 2021 calendar year, more than 3.2 million services were delivered to our communities in Victoria and South Australia alone (10 million nationally). That is a massive contribution towards enabling people of all ages and stages to continue to engage with all that life has to offer. Which, of course, has a positive flowon effect to other parts of our communities – education, health, social participation and more. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shares this view.

When we report on data about optometry, do we ask ourselves how many lives have been changed for the better? Understandably, there is a strong focus on the clinical aspect of treating patients, but I hope that all optometrists also see themselves as part of a vital network that is enabling our communities to continue to function, and even flourish.

At OV/SA, we continue to work to improve quality of life for our communities. You may have seen coverage in The Adelaide Advertiser highlighting ophthalmology as having the highest wait times out of all public healthcare in South Australia. We have long advocated for a collaborative care approach between optometrists and ophthalmologists to reduce these wait times, and recently we have been making headway. Our work was recognised in a follow-up article by The Adelaide Advertiser, which touched on the two round table discussions with key industry stakeholders that we’ve held in South Australia. These informative collaborations of minds have helped us get a better grasp of what can be done and, through the help of Government, we hope to see real, workable change sometime soon.

At OV/SA, we are also working towards promoting better eye health among our young people, by carrying out research on how many of our members do vision screening in schools, which in Victoria and South Australia is somewhat of an ad-hoc offering. We also make sure we can include information, where possible, for busy parents, and are exploring ways to better communicate with both children and parents about the benefits of seeing an optometrist.

My hope is that all this work can continue to promote the importance of eye health and the benefits of optometry. It’s all about getting the word out and we plan to shout it from the rooftops!

Ilsa Hampton is the Chief Executive Officer of Optometry Victoria South Australia. The association, which formed as a Victorian body in 1911 and as a South Australian body in 1913, amalgamated in 2019.