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HomemioptometryRefreshing – and Chasing – a Vision for Optometry

Refreshing – and Chasing – a Vision for Optometry

What will optometry look like in 15 years?

Optometry Australia’s 2040 project has been refreshed to reflect current and emerging trends. In 2018, Optometry Australia undertook the Optometry 2040 project to identify plausible and preferred futures for optometry and community eye health. The outcomes of this work, informed by optometrists across the country, have steered our strategic efforts.

By mid-2023, it was clear that this work needed updating if it were to remain relevant and useful; some assumptions about key trends from 2018 no longer held. The impact of the COVID pandemic has been a central player in changing the track of many key trends impacting healthcare. Some progressed faster than expected, while others slower or not at all.

Through a process of literature review and trend analysis, we’ve updated our plausible futures scenarios for optometry in 2040; that is, potential scenarios of what optometry might look like in 15 years’ time, based on current and emerging trends. With thanks to input from nearly 200 optometrists, an updated preferred future for optometry in 2040 was identified.

OPTOMETRY OF THE FUTURE

In this vision, the optometrists of 2040 are well integrated within a multidisciplinary, collaborative healthcare system. Optometry has evolved into a multi-tiered profession, with multiple areas of specialisation aligned with changing population health needs, and diverse domains of practice. Through their pivotal role in retinal diagnostics, optometrists have a critical role in early detection of a breadth of health conditions. Supported by regulatory reform, optometry expands in scope to include a greater role in disease management and intervention. Some become neurosensory specialists, optimising clinical advancements in assessment of retinal imaging, to support diagnosis and management of neurological conditions.

Supported by advanced artificial intelligence (AI), other clinical technologies, and sophisticated digital communications, optometrists work across a wide range of modalities. These include virtual, face-to-face and remote, and extend from health kiosks, to multidisciplinary primary care clinics, to hospitals. With multiple contexts for utilising their clinical expertise and a networked capacity to distribute service delivery, optometrists have much greater flexibility in work hours and settings, making the workforce more adaptable to changing demand.

The increased digitisation of optometry services, and the use of big data to guide clinical practice and the establishment of clinical pathways, means optometrists require an ever-evolving knowledge of advancing digital technologies. In 2040, this has become an important focus of continuing professional development.

This is an appealing vision. Vision without strategy is, however, just wishful thinking.

DEVELOPING THE STRATEGY

Recently, leaders from across the Optometry Australia federation have been collaborating to develop a guiding strategy for the forthcoming period, which we look forward to sharing with our members in the coming months. We have considered what we need to do to lead optometrists to this preferred vision, while continuing to meet and exceed the current professional support needs of our members.

Fortunately, we are not approaching this from a standing start. Significant work is already underway to guide us towards realising this vision of optometry for 2040.

Over the past few years, we’ve been exploring the possibility of credentialling optometrists to recognise and support advanced practice within selected areas and we are close to initiating a pilot of this project. Our hope is that supporting advanced practice will enable more optometrists to work to theirfull clinical scope, participate in collaborative care arrangements with ophthalmologists, and facilitate intra-professional referrals. Following consideration of areas where credentialling may offer greatest benefit, we will focus first on credentialling advanced practice in glaucoma. With input from sector leaders, we’ve established project governance structures and are currently finalising competency standards.

Similarly, we’ve paid close attention to developments in AI, particularly how we maximise the opportunities it offers optometrists in both clinical care and practice efficiency, and how we minimise associated risks. Optometry has consistently shown itself to be a highly adaptable profession, so it is well positioned to embrace novel technologies to enhance patient care and business impact. As a first step in guiding and informing members around the appropriate use of AI, Optometry Australia is finalising a position statement on its use in optometry, due for release in the next few months.

We are also actively advocating for Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) item numbers for tele-optometry consultations. Several optometry service providers have established systems to support patient access to remote comprehensive examinations, demonstrating that remote consultations are not an imagination, but deliverable with the combination of current technologies and expertise of Australian optometrists. This has the potential to overcome geographical barriers, enabling more timely access to care and allowing network service providers to meet changing local demand. Enabling this requires new MBS items to support tele-optometry, marking a further step toward realising the preferred future for optometry.

Alongside tele-optometry, we’re actively pursuing funding approaches to support asynchronous tele-ophthalmology, where optometrists and ophthalmologists can collaborate on patient care without the patient physically present. This collaboration, supported by high-quality digital imaging technologies, can support the delivery of highly efficient, patient-centred care, but demands appropriate funding if such approaches are to be scaled and systematised.

Skye Cappuccio is the Chief Executive Officer of Optometry Australia.