Eyecare workforce is 'adequate' for current and projected demand

June 23, 2014

The American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) recently released results of the National Eyecare Workforce Study. The study aimed to answer questions about how U.S. eye health needs will be met over the next decade.

 

The American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) recently released results of the National Eyecare Workforce Study. The study aimed to answer questions about how U.S. eye health needs will be met over the next decade.

The most recent study examining the optometric workforce was released in 1999. This year’s results examined the total eyecare workforce, both optometrists and ophthalmologists, while the previous study looked at only optometrists.

Eyecare professionals should take away two messages from the study, according to AOA Vice President Steve Loomis, OD. “One is we’ve done the math, looked at the pros and the cons, and we believe there is an adequate supply of eye doctors for the next 20 years,” he says., speaking exclusively to Optometry Times. “Two, there will be a growth in the demand of eye care, but it will be in medical eye care. It will be an opportunity for optometry because optometrists are well positioned for that.”

(See page 10 for Chief Optometric Editor Dr. Ernie Bowling’s thoughts on takeaway messages from the workforce study.)

According to Dr. Looms,  an “adequate” eyecare workforce means “sufficient or enough.”

“We think it is about just right,” he says. “The problem with suggesting too few or too many-it’s a complicated question because there are a number of variables. We can’t fully predict mortality or retirement rates or the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on demand. We know it’s going to have an effect, and we think it’s going to increase demand because people will be covered. We know there will be increased demand for children due to the new benefit. The same with diabetics. As the population ages, macular degeneration and glaucoma that are managed well by optometrists are going to increase. We have a good sense that there will be an increase in demand.

“When we surveyed optometrists, one of the questions we asked was, ‘Can you see more patients and would you like to see more patients?’ The answer was yes. The number was around 20 additional visits per week. We call that excess capacity.

“When we put all of it together (demand, number of doctors and new graduates, ophthalmologists and new ophthalmologists, subtract retirements and mortality rates, then add excess capacity into the equation), we think we have an adequate number.”

Dr. Loomis clarifies that the study results don’t project more vision care demand due to ACA. “We’re not talking about an increase in demand in vision care with ACA, but certainly having health insurance means you’re going to have an increase in medical care. By virtue of the fact that more people will have health insurance, when they have medical eye care needs, those needs will be met by eye doctors.”

Results of this study should not be taken as a commentary on the number of optometry schools or optometry students. Says  Dr. Loomis: “The study and its conclusion that there is an adequate supply well into the future is timely and relevant information for any public or private entity looking at schools. The AOA is not in a position to evaluate any proposal for a school. The AOA strongly supports the use of rigorous accreditation standards for existing and proposed schools. The decision to start a new school is a state or local decision. It’s made by the entities who wish to move forward.”

The AOA and ASCO jointly organized the study. Industry sponsors supported the study, including, Alcon, Essilor, Hoya Vision Care, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Luxottica, TLC Vision, and Transitions Optical. The complete study is available to AOA members at no charge by contacting the AOA.ODT