The event brought together groups of people who might not otherwise have their paths crossed, focusing on the imbalance of supply and demand in eye care.
The third annual New England College of Optometry (NECO) Industry Collaborative brought together over 120 guests across various industries August 21 and August 22. Members of the eye care industry, professional organizations, health care, academia, and the media all converged to connect, debate, and deliberate the topic of supply and demand in optometry.1
In the opening session, Gary Chu, OD, NECO vice president for professional affairs, welcomed guests by sharing that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for optometrists is expected to grow 4-7% during 2021 to 2031.2
“This is a staggering increase in demand for medical eye care,” Chu said. “And while the number of colleges of optometry has increased and ASCO has implemented the Optometry Gives Me Life campaign, the applicant pool of prospective optometry students has remained nearly flat.”
Richard Edlow, OD, known as the “Eyeconomist,” says that ophthalmologists will increase 0.5% annually, while the need for medical eye exams is anticipated to climb 25%, making the increase in eye exams reach 15 million additional eye exams per year.1 Because of this anticipated growth, the imbalance between supply and demand in optometry is a hot topic.
During the meeting, Howard Purcell, OD, NECO president and CEO, voiced the concerts he holds with the recent Supreme Court ruling that has overturned affirmative action, and what role that will play in eye care.
“While NECO will absolutely adhere to the law, we also remain committed to continue to close the gaps for optometrists of Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other under-represented people in optometry so we can best meet the needs of patients,” Purcell said.
Four panels filled the event, with two dedicated to students. The first panel was for students early in their academic journey, while the second panel focused on students nearing the end of their education, in residency, or early in practice. A third panel explored admissions to graduation, applicant pool expansion, board exams, and the quality, quantity, and diversity of students applying to optometry school today.
The fourth and final panel dove into the potential that telehealth care might have to address the supply and demand gap in eye care. Last year, the panel debated refraction and telehealth.
“There was quite a bit of tension as we debated the topic last year,” Chu said. “This year, the discussion centered around imaging vs. dilation in telehealth and the responsibility in leveraging technology to deliver care that is appropriate to meet the demands while ensuring accessibility.
In October 2022, the American Optometric Association rewrote their position statement regarding telehealth, another indication that that delemedicine will be one of the tools to help address the increasing need for eye care.3
The Industry Collaborative also covered topics such as: mentorship, student debt, scholarships, the breadth of careers for Doctors of Optometry, business acumen, mental health, opioid addiction, food insecurity, license portability, and the need for rural optometrists.1
In a concluding statement, NECO said it “will continue to further explore these topics with students and industry professionals over the coming months as we see this as one way to fulfill our mission to Change the Way People See the World.”1