Key players in the optometric industry are working together on a solution to increase equity in eye health services across Australia, led by better distribution of the optometric workforce across areas of need.
As a part of a commitment to continuously advance optometry solutions that are patient and health outcome focussed, a full-scope optometry remote eye care model is being explored.
Providing eye care skills development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, so they can work alongside remote optometrists to deliver culturally appropriate eye care services in local communities, is also a welcome component of the remote eye care model
The model, being led by Specsavers, would see optometrists consulting remotely to provide comprehensive optometric examinations. With the support of a trained professional in the consultation room throughout the entire journey, patients would undergo an examination with appropriate assessment, testing, imaging, and management.
The model has been developed to complement existing traditional sight test practices. This means it could be used to add additional services for those who, due to circumstances such as location, workforce shortages, or supply of current services, are unable to provide the critical eye care needed in a timely fashion. It may also offer solutions to modern workforce problems faced by the optometry profession, for example, the need for flexible working options.
Accessibility of Care
Specsavers Optometry Director, Dr Ben Ashby said this remote eye care model is an industry-leading solution that is being developed in response to demand. “The fact is that eye care services simply aren’t as accessible as they should be in Australia, and due to this people are suffering from vision loss that could have been avoided,” he said.
He explained, “There are currently 10 million Australians not accessing the eye care services that they need. There’s an ever-growing demand for eye care services provided by optometrists, with many practices across the industry seeing increasing wait times, particularly in regional and rural locations.
“On top of this, a report by Deloitte Access Economics calculated that the number of FTE (full time equivalent) optometrists required to support the level of clinical demand is projected to grow from 4,234 in 2018 to 7,841 by 2037.
This data alone highlights the significant gap that will only grow as demand for optometry services slowly but surely outstrips supply over the forecast period,” said Dr Ashby.
Technology To Improve Equity
Vision 2020 Australia CEO Carly Iles hopes a remote eye care solution will ensure people have access to services when they need it.
“In our 2022–23 pre-budget submission, we called on the federal government for greater investment in optometry and ophthalmology services in rural and remote Australia through the expansion of the Visiting Optometrists Scheme (VOS) and Rural Health Outreach Fund (RHOF). If we could expand these services even further through the remote eye care model, it could assist in preventing the growing burden of eye disease that is forecast to increase significantly over the coming decades.
“Providing eye care skills development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, so they can work alongside remote optometrists to deliver culturally appropriate eye care services in local communities, is also a welcome component of the remote eye care model,” Ms Iles said.
Dr Ashby said Specsavers is collaborating with as many sector players as possible to develop evidence-based solutions that will improve health outcomes for all Australians.
He said the development and trial of the remote eye care model, which has taken place in the Clinical Innovation Centre at the Specsavers Support Office, has involved the scrutiny of new technology to ensure the same level of care as a traditional eye test.
He said Specsavers is now ready to take the next step to meet demand for this model, by establishing initial pilot locations.
“This is the way that our profession will keep up with the evolved and evolving expectations of its workforce and patients, enabling the provision of eye care into the future that upholds patient safety standards and leads to the prevention of vision loss,” Dr Ashby concluded.