Prof Harrison Weisinger, Specsavers’ Melbourne-based Director of Professional Services Advancement, recently shared his insights into current global optometry trends with the attendees of several European Specsavers Clinical Conferences (SCC).

Five one-day conferences took place over five consecutive days from 8 to 12 October 2017 in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Several of the conferences included parallel sessions for optometrists, optical dispensers and audiologists.

In total, almost 2,200 professionals attended the conference series, including approximately 1,360 optometrists – more than 620 of which were non-Specsavers optometrists – 200 dispensers, 100 audiologists, and 420 students.

Global trends
In his presentation, Prof Weisinger outlined three key trends in health, eye care and optics: the ‘healthcare crunch’, the automation and commoditisation of optical services, and machine learning.

He explained that increases in factors such as population growth, life expectancy and the cost of diagnosis and treatment was driving up the overall cost of healthcare, but that due to a dearth of resources and funding, modern health systems would soon be in jeopardy.

The ‘healthcare crunch’ is also being experienced in eye care which, though it is important, is also expensive. This presents an opportunity for optometry, which is well-placed to reduce costs while providing a comprehensive suite of primary eye care and co-management services.

Prof Weisinger noted that the optics sector was rapidly changing, with optical services potentially soon to be be delegated to automated equipment. He emphasised that in order to remain competitive, optometry would need to continually improve its quality, services and integration with the wider healthcare community.

The final trend described was developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance healthcare and reduce costs. While online retailers would use this technology to their advantage, Prof Weisinger noted that optometry could also use this to improve its services.

Delegates were told that optometry would need to “adapt or die” as new challenges would inevitably arise from outside of the traditional optical retail and primary eye care market. He also explained how Specsavers was preparing for this by increasing collaboration with general practice and ophthalmology, investing in the professional advancement of its optometrists, and by embracing new technology.

Prof Harrison Weisinger

Specsavers Australia & New Zealand’s (ANZ) positive relationship and work with RANZCO, its integration of the Oculo electronic referral platform into its practice management system, and its roll-out of OCTs were provided as examples of how Specsavers was working to “transform eye health” across all territories.

Prof Weisinger referred to this plan as the “ultimate win-win” – better for patients and customers, the health system, the medical sector, and the optometry profession.

Other key messages
Prof Weisinger was among a broad range of international ophthalmologists, academics and other optometry and ophthalmology experts speaking as part of the European SCCs’ optometry streams.

Key messages from some of the other optometry lectures are listed below:

  • The future is closer then we think. Technology developments enable delegation and automation of optical and clinical services. While optometrists need to consider what this means for optometry and how this can be used to their advantage, they also need to maintain their focus on areas that cannot be delegated, such as patient communication and clinical skills.
  • Optometrists need to keep up to date on contact lens products to ensure optimal comfort and reduce drop-outs. Daily disposables have shown the best results, especially silicone hydrogel daily disposables.
  • Patient care includes a deep understanding of what an optometrist can see or observe on the anterior eye and cornea. To ensure the best possible patient management is being delivered in-store, corneal opacities need to be understood.
  • There has been strong evidence that good vision is important for safe driving, and alternative visual tests, such as motion sensitivity, contrast sensitivity and visual fields, have been shown to be a better predictor of safe driving than a visual acuity test. Optimum refractive correction and cataract extraction also have the potential to improve night-time driving safety.
  • Optometry can make a difference for those who have suffered from a stroke. Understanding a patient’s functional vision is important for evaluating their rehabilitation needs after a stroke. Having a good understanding of signs and symptoms related to stroke and understanding the risk factors can also save lives.

The European SCCs were part of a global series of Specsavers clinical conferences that took place in seven different countries around the world over September and October. The series included the Professional Advancement Conference, the UK’s flagship optometry conference.

The ANZ SCC took place in Melbourne from 2 to 3 October 2017 and was attended by more than 600 delegates. A separate Specsavers Dispensing Conference – the first to be launched by Specsavers in the ANZ region – was held for optical dispensers in a roadshow-style series of one-day events. These events took place across Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, Melbourne and Perth from 23 July to 2 August and were attended by over 430 delegates.