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The Foresight report and the College’s Optical Workforce Survey (OWS) report were published earlier this year. Findings from these publications highlighted that technology is pushing some eye care services towards automation and that the workforce is moving more towards part-time and locum working. We felt it was crucial to begin to tackling these issues head on as a united sector. To facilitate this, we ran a roundtable event with experts from across the sector, geared towards identifying potential solutions to the challenges, and to highlight the opportunities.

Discussion highlights

  • The early impact of technology is likely to be facilitating, but in 20-30 years time, it could advance to completely replace the more day to day optometric functions. This will mean that community service pathways will increase as the professions move more towards clinical management.
  • The scope of practice is likely to change. Our definition of, and attitude to, what constitutes an optometrist must become more flexible and business models will need to be revised.
  • Education must move along with the changing scope and more structured career paths after registration should be in place. Emphasis should be on interpretation of data, interpersonal skills, and the more clinical aspects of optometry.
  • Changing the CET system into one of continued professional development (CPD) could forge a more natural path for practitioner up-skilling and career progression, in line with the evolving scope of practice.
  • IT connectivity with the NHS and free flow of data between primary and secondary care is key to enabling the evolving workload.
  • There will likely be some level of deregulation of professionals, practices, products and businesses. As a sector, we must be unified in our intentions early enough so that changes are advantageous, both for the patient and the professions.
  • Data from the OWS report suggested an apparent pay gap between genders, although participants felt that this was not the case. The sector must investigate this data more fully before proceeding with any firm action.
  • Greater levels of employer flexibility and clearer career paths could be key to tackling the issues of part-time and locum working.

How might the findings affect you in practice?

  • The public must continue to have trust in optometry to deliver eye care services, despite the increase in online sales and automation.
  • If practitioners embrace the cultural shift towards technology, and are more involved in delivering primary eye care in the community cost effectively, they will remain indispensible.
  • CPD will become increasingly important.
  • Look out for college updates on new technology and research.
  • Try to prepare your practice for the increase in new technology and what it will mean for business.
  • Look at ways to harness the use of online dispensing.

Other resources of interest