Ontario Association of Optometrists releases report calling for better care, at better value, close to home
By 2031, the number of Ontarians living with eye disease and vision problems, already in the millions, is expected to double. This leads to significant costs for Ontario's healthcare system, with vision loss already costing the province $7.3 billion annually. Optimizing Optometry's Role in Ontario, an evidence-based report from the Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO), examines the provision of eye care in Ontario and explores ways that optometrists can play a larger role to reduce strain on the healthcare system and improve patient care. Despite substantial government investment, the report concludes that eye health resources must be better distributed.
Optimizing Optometry's Role in Ontario outlines the delicate state of eye health and vision care in the province:
- In 2014 alone, there were more than 100,000 unnecessary eye-related visits to the emergency department, leading to $17.6 million in OHIP fees and delays in patient care.
- More than two million Ontarians live with at least one of the four major eye diseases – glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy. In three years alone, this will cost the province $5.58 billion (2014-2016).
- Only 10 per cent of children under four, and 14 per cent of children under six, have had an OHIP-insured comprehensive eye exam, even though 80 per cent of learning is visual.
- By age 65, one in three people will have some form of vision-reducing eye disease, which doubles the risk of falls and triples the risk of depression. Seniors with vision loss are also admitted to long-term care three years earlier.
From urgent care and disease management, to the impact on vulnerable populations such as children and seniors, there are gaps that can be filled by improved access to optometrists. This will require some help from government. OHIP funding approaches to eye care need to be modernized to ensure a stronger foundation of primary eye care by optometrists.
"When patients wake up with a toothache, they know to go to the dentist. But when they wake up with red eye, they're not sure who to see," says Dr. Jeff Goodhew, President, OAO. "Optometrists have the training and scope to diagnose and treat most eye conditions – and we're easily accessible to Ontarians. In short, we're best positioned to be the first source for all eye care needs."
Without increased collaboration between optometrists, government, other health care providers and health organizations, the current problems will only grow. Optometrists have at least seven years of university education, are part of the fabric of nearly all Ontario communities and have the knowledge, the specialized equipment and the expertise to be part of the solution.
"Ontarians' eye care needs aren't being adequately met by the current approach," says Beth Witney, CEO, OAO. "An aging population means that patient needs are becoming more complex. We need to make the most of our existing eye care resources, including optometrists so that patients have access to the best, most efficient care."
On top of providing a current landscape of eye health and vision care in Ontario, the report brings forward suggestions on how to improve access to optometry's eye care services:
- Better educate Ontarians about OHIP-insured optometry services to enable more people to receive preventative care
- Continue discussions with government, health care professionals and health organizations about the role of optometry in urgent care, disease prevention and management as well as children's and seniors' vision
- Modernize Ontario's policies to align with other jurisdictions, where optometrists have the most effective tools, including access to newly approved medications, necessary to manage eye and vision conditions
Implementing the report's recommendations would reduce the overall cost of eye health and vision care in the province and lead to better value for Ontarians and a greatly improved patient experience.
Ontario Association of Optometrists