Eye Care Workforce Study Predicts Growing Demand for Optometric Services, Adequate Number of Eye Doctors


Jennifer Smythe, OD, MS (l)
and Steve Loomis, OD.

ST. LOUIS and ROCKVILLE, Md.—The National Eye Care Workforce Study, conducted jointly by the American Optometric Association (AOA) and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), set out to help answer questions about how America's eye health needs will be met over the next decade and beyond. Conducted in 2012 and just released this week, the study sent surveys to about 3,900 optometrists, of which approximately 18 percent, or about 700 respondents, replied, vice president of the AOA board of trustees, Steve Loomis, OD, told VMail.

The study’s findings predict the following trends related to both eyecare professionals and their patients: There appear to be an adequate supply of eye doctors, optometrists and ophthalmologists, including projections of new doctors, to meet current and projected demand for eyecare services through 2025. According to the study, the following will contribute to an increasing demand for optometric services through 2025—demographic trends as well as public health and policy factors, including growth and aging of the U.S. population, an increased prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, expansions in health insurance coverage and the designation in federal law that coverage for eye health and vision care is essential for children.

The study also determined that the trend of optometrists to provide an increasing number of medically necessary eyecare services correlates closely with projections for an increasing demand for these services, especially among senior citizens and those at risk for Type 2 diabetes. “The most dramatic conclusion makes clear that the growth in demand is medical eyecare, which is the real opportunity here because optometry is well positioned to address this,” Loomis told VMail about the study.

“The results clearly point to a supply of eye doctors, optometrists and ophthalmologists, that is adequate to meet the current and future eye health and vision care needs of the American people,” he said. “The study also demonstrates the opportunities for optometry to further expand its role in the delivery of medical eyecare services for seniors, working adults and children.”

The data collected also indicates that with increases in productivity, optometrists currently view themselves as able to accommodate much of the expected increase in demand. Respondents reported that they could see an average of 19.8 additional patients per week if completely booked without adding hours to their practice schedules.

Among the specific numbers predicted, the study estimated that there were 39,580 optometrists providing direct care to patients in the U.S. in the beginning of 2012. At the same time, the report estimates that there were 16,404 board certified or board eligible ophthalmologists in the U.S. Extrapolating into the future, while the report predicts, “by 2025, a gap of approximately 4,300 FTE [full-time equivalent] optometrist providers will emerge,” this does not account for “additional factors” reported later in the study.

When accounting for factors such as the impact of the Affordable Care Act and the increased prevalence of diabetes, that gap increases to 9,000. However, the supply of eyecare services is expected to increase as well due to including the services of both optometrists and ophthalmologists and optometrists providing an additional 32 percent of services per year due to excess capacity.

AOA and ASCO organized the project for which funding was provided by ophthalmic industry sponsors, including Alcon, Essilor, Hoya Vision Care, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., Luxottica, TLC Vision and Transitions Optical.

The results of the study are also based on a computer model developed by the Lewin Group, which allows its conclusions to be adjusted as factors change over time. “The ability to have a tool where we can actually plug in data as external factors change make it a living study rather than a static model,” ASCO president, Jennifer Smythe, OD, MS told VMail. “While the study offers a snapshot of the workforce at this moment in time, one of the most important aspects of this project is that the Eye Care Workforce computer model will allow for continued analysis of the eyecare market as external factors affecting both supply and demand change or are introduced.”

The National Eye Care Workforce Study consists of three documents—“National Eye Care Workforce Study: Supply and Demand Projections Executive Summary,” “Report on the 2012 National Eye Care Workforce Survey of Optometrists” and “National Eye Care Workforce Study: Supply and Demand Projections Final Report”—all of which are available at AOA.org/Marketplace.