‘The Future of Optometry’, presented at the recent Vision Expo West, was a look at the future, based on a comprehensive study conducted by Jobson Medical Information designed to appraise the current and future state of optometry in the United States.

The presentation looked at likely changes in practice operations, as well as practical action points to adapt to evolving business dynamics through to the year 2025

The study found that demand for eye care has two components: demand for corrective products (particularly spectacles and contact lenses) and services, as well as for medical diagnosis and treatment, including surgery. The first category has been the traditional stronghold of optometry, and the latter has been the main focus of ophthalmology.

‘Eye care is a huge business’

Among its findings was that eye care is a huge business, with more than three-quarters of the adult population wearing vision correction devices, with an estimated $US33.5 billion pent annually by American adults for refractive eye examinations, eyewear and contact lenses. Another $US28.6 billion is spent for medical and surgical eye care, meaning total eye-care demand per capita is nearly $US200 annually.

The study found that demand for eye care is higher among older people, both because a higher proportion of people over 40 need vision correction and because the prevalence of most ocular diseases is much higher among older people.

‘Growth in demand has been steady’

Also, that growth in demand for eye care has been steady and predictable, driven by population growth, the aging of the population, rising incomes and new technology.

Furthermore, that eye care is an attractive market for investors because it weathers economic downturns better than most businesses and that is because the foundation of eye care demand is grounded in functional vision needs, not discretionary desires. Technical innovation is continuous and transformative in the eye-care market and is a significant contributor to demand growth, as it has been in most other health-care sectors.

The study found that

  • Total annual growth over the past 10 years was 4.0 per cent, consisting of 0.9 per cent for population growth, 1.2 per cent for price/fee inflation and 1.9 per cent for product upgrade.
  • Over the past 10 years, the contact-lens-wearer population has grown twice as fast as the vision-correction population. Currently, there are 41.2 million adult contact lens wearers in the US, representing 22 per cent of the vision-correction population. By 2025, 24 per cent of the vision-correction population are likely to wear contacts.
  • There has been a proliferation of ophthalmic lenses and frame products designed for specialised uses or wearing occasions, yet the average wearer uses just 1.5 pairs, and 63 per cent use a single pair only. Those ratios have not changed appreciably in recent years, despite the rising affluence of the population. The eye-care industry has been relatively unsuccessful in encouraging multiple pair usage.

Among the fastest growing components of eye-care demand through 2025 will be medical eye-care services.

‘Growth rates do not reflect fee increases’

Medical eye-care services are expected to increase nearly three times as fast as comprehensive eye examinations through to 2025. The growth rates do not reflect any fee increases, but only the number of examinations performed, so the annual revenue impact of medical eye-care growth will be greater than the numbers suggest.

The rapid growth in demand for medical eye-care services relates to the aging of the population, as well as to the growing diagnoses and treatment of prevalent ocular conditions such as dry eye and ocular allergies and expanded use of diagnostic tests such as retinal scans and OCT.

A major driver of demand for medical eye-care services is the increasing prevalence of ocular disorders in the population, related to the aging of Baby Boomers.

‘Monitoring diabetics will become major service provided by optometrists

For cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration and low vision, the number of Americans with those conditions will increase 2.3 per cent t0 2.9 per cent annually through to 2030, according to the National Eye Institute.

Similarly, the number of diabetics is expected to grow rapidly, as is the number of people exhibiting symptoms of diabetic retinopathy. Monitoring diabetics will become a major service provided by optometrists.