Insights and Trends – Optometry: U.K.

Insights and Trends – Optometry: U.K.

Three trends in the field of optometry in the UK are an increased demand for services due to an aging population, an increase in consumers purchasing glasses and contacts online, and the increased role of technology in both sight tests and disease diagnosis.

1. Aging Population Results in Increased Demand

  • From 1985 to 2010, the percentage of people over age 65 in the UK increased from 15% to 17%. This is projected to reach 22% by 2030.
  • As older people generally have more instances of eye disease, as well as an increased need for vision assistance, this changing population is increasing demand for optometry services. This will only continue as the population trends older in the UK.
  • Some diseases that tend to increase as people age include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Additionally, diabetes and dementia can also increase with age, and eye health can be impacted by both diseases.
  • This was included as a trend due to being reported by IBIS, in a marketing report on the UK optometry industry; by 2020 Health, an organization that focuses on evidence based research to support informed use of digital tools and the promotion of personalized health; and Optometry Today.
  • In their marketing report, IBIS had this to say about the trend, “People tend to gradually lose their eyesight with age, so the ageing of the UK population has a positive influence on demand for optical goods. The number of people aged 65 years and over is expected to increase in 2019-20, providing an opportunity for industry growth.”
  • Although the 2020 Health report was published in 2016, much of the data was supported by additional, more recent, sources. According to the report, “But the increase of ocular health issues are not confined to the elderly; our nation’s rising levels of obesity bring greater risk of diabetes and thus diabetic retinopathy, and a ‘myopia boom’ among children and young people (a world-wide phenomenon) is also impacting the optical profession and the NHS.”
  • The Optometry Today article states, “The NHS long term plan details new ways of working to tackle the pressure of an ageing population. The plan advocates greater use of community care and a more co-ordinated approach to patient care among all healthcare providers. To achieve this goal, healthcare professionals may be required to work more collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams.”

2. Consumers Purchasing More Glasses Online

  • With the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, as well as constraints on disposable incomes in the UK, there is a trend toward using online-only opticians as consumers look to save money.
  • The growth in this area is somewhat constrained by concerns over whether consumers can get the proper prescription and fit from online retailers. In 2016, some experts warned that 25% of glasses purchased “online were unacceptable or unsafe.”
  • Although the majority of the article was behind a paywall, the available information in an article on Optometry Today indicated that using video technology as part of the process for ordering glasses over the internet could be a way to improve the results.
  • This was included as a trend because it was discussed in a market report published by IBIS, as well as an article in Optometry Today and an overview of the industry published by Marketing Donut.
  • Regarding the trend, IBIS states, “The UK’s decision to exit the European Union has led to consumer confidence falling. This is expected to have encouraged an increasing number of consumers to transition to purchasing from online-only opticians in the hope of finding a better deal, limiting demand for the industry’s services.”

3. Increased Role of Technology

  • There are many ways that technology is playing a role in eye health in the UK. Simon Berry is the inventor of the Optimec Visual Fixation System, which helps sight tests for patients that have difficulty with traditional tests.
  • The Optimec system was implemented on a trial basis with several providers in late 2018, with more signing on in 2019.
  • AI technology is being developed which has the potential to predict the future occurrence of eye disease, possibly preventing problems before they happen. The technology has also been shown to read OCT scans with an accuracy that equals that of leading specialists.
  • Another technology being developed in the area of eye health is the RetinaScope, which is a smartphone based camera that can take pictures of the retina.
  • This was included as a trend due to the large number of technologies that are currently being used, or in development, in the UK in the eye health space.
  • According to The College of Optometrists, “The UK is at the forefront of using AI within eye health.”
  • An article in Optometry Times stated, “AI is likely to become commonplace over the next few years helping optometrists and ophthalmologists with clinical decision-making and reducing medical errors and variability in patient care.”

Insights – Optometry in the United Kingdom

The role of optometry in the United Kingdom has expanded in a way that it is no longer necessary for optometrists to refer all eye diseases to secondary care. Optometrists in the country now have therapeutic prescribing rights. Though most of these optometrists have a permanent job, a significant fraction perform purely locum work for reasons relating to flexibility, financial rewards, and variety of work.

1. Evolving Role of Optometry

  • The role of optometry has changed significantly in the past six decades. Optometrists no longer refer all eye diseases to secondary care. Their role has expanded to include ocular pathology management in community practice, and their capacity for patient management and treatment has expanded to include therapeutic prescribing rights.
  • It is expected in the next few decades that the role of optometry will expand to include the curtailment of eye diseases and that independent prescribing will develop further.
  • Doug Perkins, co-founder of Specsavers, says that advances in technology, such as the emergence of optical coherence tomography, will drive optometrists to “take on a more clinical role.”
  • Trevor Warburton, clinical advisor at the Association of Optometrists (AOP), expects in the next decade that some aspects of patient care that are taking place in secondary care settings now will take place in the optical setting instead.
  • Given the aging population and the shortage of optometrists, there will be increased efforts to train optometrists for work in rural or remote areas. The population needs 12,912 full-time equivalent (FTE) optometrists at present, but there are only 12,099 FTE optometrists available.

2. Attitudes Toward Optometry

  • Most optometrists believe that they are advantageous to society and that they do meaningful and interesting work. Most optometrists, however, also believe that their work can be tedious, they and their employers have conflicting interests, and the public has no clear understanding of their role.
  • 94.8% of optometrists agree or strongly agree that optometrists are advantageous to society.
  • 86.2% of optometrists agree or strongly agree that optometry is meaningful work.
  • 83.9% of optometrists agree or strongly agree that their job as an optometrist is interesting.
  • 80.1 of optometrists agree or strongly agree that some optometry work can be tedious.
  • 74% of optometrists agree or strongly agree that they and their employers have conflicting interests.
  • 73.2% of optometrists agree or strongly agree that the public has no clear understanding of the optometrist’s role.

3. Reasons for Selecting Optometry as a Career

  • Most optometrists have chosen optometry as their career because of their desire to help people, their desire to work in healthcare, and their belief that optometrists have good income potential.
  • 81% of pre-registration optometrists say they chose optometry because they are interested in healthcare work. Pre-registration optometrists are optometrists undergoing training prior registration with the General Optical Council (GOC).
  • 73% of pre-registration optometrists say they chose optometry because they wish to help people.
  • 71% of pre-registration optometrists say they chose optometry because they believe optometrists have good income potential.
  • Other less common reasons are a belief that a strong interest in optometry (46%), optometry permits flexible working (48%), and a belief that optometrists can work in the public, private, or charity sectors (41%).

4. Important Considerations in Job Selection

  • When choosing a permanent job or position, most optometrists give the most weight to company values, the location, the reputation, the culture, and the equipment.
  • 46% of GOC-registered optometrists with a permanent position chose their position because of the employer’s values.
  • 40% of GOC-registered optometrists with a permanent position chose their position because of the employer’s location or the job’s closeness to home.
  • 39% of GOC-registered optometrists with a permanent position chose their position because of the employer’s reputation.
  • 37% of GOC-registered optometrists with a permanent position chose their position because of the employer’s work culture.
  • 30% of GOC-registered optometrists with a permanent position chose their position because of the employer’s state-of-the-art equipment.

5. Locum Work

  • While most GOC-registered optometrists have a permanent job, more than a fourth of GOC-registered optometrists do purely locum work. Their reasons for working solely as locums, which center mostly on flexibility, financial rewards, and variety of work, indicate that “locum work is a conscious choice rather than a necessity.”
  • 88% of this cohort perform purely locum work so they can work when and where it suits them.
  • 54% of this cohort perform purely locum work because they perceive locum work as more financially rewarding than a permanent job.
  • 35% of this cohort perform purely locum work so they will be exposed to a variety of work.

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