Jamie Chang, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore

Dr Wilfred Tang, Clinical Optometrist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Australia, discussed the evolving relationship between Australia’s education and the optometry practice in the perspective of the past, present and future during the Singapore Primary Eye Care Symposium (SPECS) 2019 between 23-24 July 2019 at One Farrer Hotel, Singapore, during his lecture titled, “Corporate Optometry and Optometry Education: A Mismatch?”.

In the past, prior to ocular therapeutics in 2014, Optometrists Association Australia and optometry schools had fought for its introduction. Ocular therapeutics also widened their practice choices which led to a decrease in the cost of primary eyecare, improving the standard and accessibility. In addition, the established Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme allows optometrists to prescribe the same medication as eye clinicians and specialists such as anti-infection, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergy and decongestants.

Presently, the scope of practice remains similar – spectacles and contact lens dispensing, detection, primary diagnosis, managing straightforward eye conditions and complaints and providing referrals. However, there has been a paradigm shift of more women than men, of younger age, entering the profession. There has also been a rapid one-third increase in therapeutic-endorsed practitioners in the past 10 years.

Dr Tang also mentioned Australia’s private healthcare insurance which helps keep spectacles and contact lenses dispensing costs low while maintaining the scalability and cost-effectiveness, yet not compromising the chair time and quality of care.

There is also the presence of independent business models which are involved in specialised contact lens fittings, myopia control, dry eyes and eye diseases in addition to dispensing spectacles and contact lenses. Offering ocular therapeutics and personal services encourages higher patient conversion and retention. Appealing as a premium, these businesses target more of the affluent groups.

In the future, it is predicted that the industry will define how the undergraduates are trained due to the shift in landscape. Education plays a very important role in expanding the scopes of practice through research and development. Hence, graduates are expected to enter the industry better equipped with related knowledge and skills in providing higher quality primary eye care.

It is important to note that the relationship between the Australian government and optometry practice from the perspectives of the past, present and future are rapidly evolving. Nonetheless, the different roles of ophthalmic opticians, traditional optometrists and eye doctors remain important facets in this profession.