Recently, the American Optometric Association and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, along with a number of vision industry leaders, commissioned the Lewin Group to conduct a study of the eye care workforce and create a computer model to continuously study supply and demand for eye care providers. AOA and ASCO leaders called the study “the most ambitious, comprehensive and forward-looking study of eye care supply and demand ever undertaken” in the release announcing the study. To get the National Eye Care Workforce Study go to aoa.org/marketplace (registration and fee required).
The study reports the same three factors that are driving demand for overall healthcare services are affecting the demand for vision care services:
- The U.S. population is aging and its vision is deteriorating.
- Diabetes is more prevalent than ever.
- The ACA expanded the health insurance market and required vision coverage for children.
The National Eye Care Workforce Study reports an oversupply of optometrists and ophthalmologists through 2025. However, other experts frame a shortage.
One interpretation of the current market shows the supply of eye doctors is growing to meet the increased demand:
- The supply of eye doctors is increasing. Three new optometry schools graduated their first classes in 2013 and another one will open in Kentucky in 2016. Every year 1,350 new optometrists graduate while 420 retire, according to a presentation Richard Edlow, OD, gave at the Integrated Ophthalmic Managed Eyecare Delivery program in April 2013. Some eye doctors postponed retirement until the U.S. economy rebounded, so the retirement rate will increase as the recovery continues.
- Eye doctors could see more patients and keep their current schedules. Optometrists surveyed by the Lewin Group as part of the study reported that they could increase patient capacity by 32%, or 933 visits, annually without adding hours or days to their schedules.
Another interpretation shows that supply shortages are on the way while demand is growing:
- More women are becoming eye doctors. “Fifty percent of ophthalmology residents are female, and 64% of optometry graduates are female,” Dr. Edlow said in his presentation. “Every study indicates that women work about 85% of a full-time employee. If we take this into account, we have 51,000 eye doctors, and we’re going to need 65,000.”
- Eye doctors are working fewer hours. Most work 40 hours weekly as opposed to 50-60 hours weekly in the past.
The National Eye Care Workforce Study provides a snapshot of the current situation overview and also created a computer model to evaluate the workforce at future points in time. As time goes on and other factors come into play, the supply and demand picture will ebb and flow.
According to NetMinder, the industry standard for vision provider network comparisons, managed vision networks continue to grow, indicating strong demand from consumers and employers for access to vision care.
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