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HomemioptometryDriving Eye Care with Big Data

Driving Eye Care with Big Data

The collection and analysis of data on Australia’s evolving eye care needs is driving professional education and awareness.

In 2022, over 10.6 million optometry services were billed under Medicare. This is the most optometry services billed to Medicare in any given year and represents a 6.2% increase in national service provision since 2021.

Through better insights informed by more comprehensive data sets, we can ensure we are most effectively supporting, advocating for, and leading the profession

While this returns us to a growth trajectory that had been interrupted in 2020 and 2021 by the impact of COVID-19, it is a lower number of services than we might have expected, based on the growth curve up until 2019. Indeed, if the average growth from 2009 to 2019 continued through 2020, 2021, and 2022, we would expect the total services provided to have passed 11.2 million. Interestingly, although the overall per capita service provision rate increased in 2022, it was slightly lower in 2022 than it was in 2019 in most age categories.

What does this tell us? Well, in short, our optometry workforce is providing a high and increasing number of services, but growth in per capita access is minimal and predominantly in older age groups.

While Medicare data is a very inexact indicator of services provided by Australian optometrists, it is currently the only national data set that provides real-time (or close to) insights. Analysis also shows that, as we may expect with an ageing population, the percentage of services provided to those over 65 years increases annually. This suggests that most optometrists are spending more time providing care for older people, who are more likely to live with chronic and progressive eye conditions. This is supported by the fact that Medicare item 10914, the item billed for care of progressive eye conditions, is the item that has most significantly increased as a proportion of optometric services billed in 2022.

What Does This Mean for the Association?

Optometry Australia works hard to stay attuned to the many changing contexts of the profession. This is critical so that we can continually evolve what we do to ensure: a robust future for the optometry profession; a strong primary eye care sector that meets population needs; and that we are providing our members with the practical support they need.

The 2022 Medicare data highlights the importance of ensuring our CPD offerings continue to support members to confidently provide best practice disease management for progressive conditions more common in older age. Our forthcoming CPD program, for example, includes webcasts on diagnosing macular pathology and diabetic eye disease management. Our Optometry Connection articles address age-related macular degeneration and low vision.
We are also exploring options to provide pathways for optometrists to develop – and be recognised for – advanced skills in key areas, including glaucoma management. We hope to share details later this year.

Analysis of 2022 Medicare data also highlights the need to remain focussed on ensuring consumer awareness of the need for regular comprehensive eye exams. Optometry Australia’s Good Vision for Life campaign aims to do exactly that. In 2022, we released our second Vision Index report, which looks into Australians’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours relating to their eye health and which, most importantly, yields copious mainstream media attention about the importance of seeing an optometrist. This activity, along with a supporting influencer campaign, resulted in record campaign reach.

We can’t afford to rest on our laurels, however, and we’re currently exploring opportunities to extend the reach and impact of the ongoing campaign.

Fundamentally, analysing Medicare data is a stark reminder that to have a good understanding of optometric patient care, and its trends over time, we need better data. Through better insights informed by more comprehensive data sets, we can ensure we are most effectively supporting, advocating for, and leading the profession.

More comprehensive data is also key to supporting optometrists and practices to identify opportunities to enhance the way they work to meet the needs of their patients and their communities. To this end, as part of our initiative to provide a comprehensive large-scale national dataset, Optometry Australia has commenced the second phase of its Big Data Project. We are currently inviting practice owners to be a part of achieving our vision for the future of optometry by supporting us in the next phase of this project.

For more information, visit optometry.org.au/practice-professional-support/patient-practice-management/big-data.

Skye Cappuccio is the acting Chief Executive Officer of Optometry Australia.