An event for the eyecare industry to collaborate to find ways to improve patient care and outcomes.
August 30, 2023
The New England College of Optometry (NECO) welcomed over 120 guests from the eyecare industry, professional organizations, healthcare, academia and media to its Beacon Street Campus on August 21 and at Artists for Humanity on August 22 for the third annual NECO Industry Collaborative.
The event brought together people who typically compete or may not otherwise interact, to connect, debate and deliberate the challenging topic of supply and demand in optometry.
Growing Demand for Medical Eyecare
Gary Y. Chu, OD, MPH, FAAO, NECO Vice-President for Professional Affairs, welcomed event guests and opened the session by reminding attendees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2021 to 2031, demand for optometrists is expected to grow 8-10 percent and demand for ophthalmologists is expected to grow 4-7 percent.
“This is a staggering increase in demand for medical eyecare and while the number of colleges of optometry has increased and ASCO has implemented the Optometry Gives Me Life campaign, the applicant pool of prospective optometry students has remained nearly flat,” said Dr. Chu.
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According to Richard Edlow, OD, the “Eyeconomist,” ophthalmologists will increase 0.5 percent per year and the need for medical eye exams will increase by 25 percent. That’s 15 million additional eye exams that will need to be performed per year. This data, along with the current difficulty many companies face filling optometrist positions, highlights the imbalance between supply and demand.
Impact of Recent Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action
NECO President and CEO Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, shared his concerns about the impact the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning affirmative action will have on eyecare. “While NECO will absolutely adhere to the law, we also remain committed to continue to close the gaps for optometrists of Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other under-represented people in optometry, so we can best meet the needs of patients,” said Dr. Purcell.
The event included two student panels, one for students early in their academic journey and a second panel of students in the final years of their education, residency or early in practice. A third panel pursued the topic of admissions to graduation, covering applicant pool expansion, board exams and the quality, quantity and diversity of students applying to optometry schools today.
Managing Benefits & Potential Pitfalls of Telemedicine
The final panel of the event pursued the potential of telemedicine to address the gap between supply and demand for eyecare. At last year’s Industry Collaborative, the debate was focused on refraction and telemedicine.
“There was quite a bit of tension as we debated the topic last year,” said Dr. Chu. “This year, the discussion centered around imaging versus dilation in telehealth and the responsibility in leveraging technology to deliver care that is appropriate to meet the demands while ensuring accessibility.”
The American Optometric Association rewrote their position statement regarding telemedicine in optometry in October 2022. There is no doubt telemedicine will be one of the tools to help address the increasing demand for eyecare, NECO pointed out.
Looking Toward the Future
Several other topics were addressed including mentorship, student debt, scholarships, the breadth of careers for Doctors of Optometry, business acumen, mental health, opioid addiction, food insecurity, license portability and the need for rural optometrists.
NECO says that it will “further explore these topics with students and industry professionals over the coming months as we see this as one way to fulfill our mission to Change the Way People See the World.”