Lyn Brodie, National CEO of Optometry Australia
Optometry Australia has reiterated the need for the Australian Government to support telehealth optometry, for the benefit of both practitioners and patients.
The peak professional body has revealed that at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April, more than 90% of optometry practices closed or scaled back their hours of operation in response to the Australia-wide lockdown.
A 74% plummet in patient consultations in April resulted in just 192,720 consultations performed compared to 749,780 in the same month of 2019.
Optometry Australia CEO Lyn Brodie, said results of research conducted in late May amongst its members provided a snapshot of the impact of the pandemic lockdown on the profession. Although business has subsequently improved, along with consumer demand for eye examinations, the Association’s research indicates that it will probably be some time yet before optometry, in general, returns to pre-COVID conditions.
It is… important that the Government supports telehealth optometry so that we can be certain that our profession is in a strong position to meet the eye health needs of patients who are unable to access face-to-face care
“We believe that around 50% of optometrists in Australia are currently working fewer hours now than they were pre-COVID-19. It is critical that they can return to optimal working capacity as quickly as possible to support community eye health needs,” said Ms Brodie.
“Exacerbating our sector’s recovery, and therefore the ability to ensure quality eye care for the whole community, is the Government’s reticence to include Medicare rebates for telehealth optometry.
“We believe access to telehealth would have enabled many more practices to support patients during the height of the pandemic and likewise, could encourage more people to access the eye health care they need now.
“Consumers are increasingly embracing technology as part of their health regime and this pandemic may likely accelerate this behaviour. It is therefore important that the Government supports telehealth optometry so that we can be certain that our profession is in a strong position to meet the eye health needs of patients who are unable to access face-to-face care,” Ms Brodie said.
Anxiety Over Future
Optometry Australia’s research also highlights that in April, 77% of practice owners reduced their staffing levels and more than 90% of optometrists moved to some form of Government financial support with the majority of employers and employees accessing JobKeeper.
At the same time, 96% of practice owners and self-employed optometrists saw their revenue decrease with a quarter suffering a decline in income of 75% or more.
The survey found that 46% of members were anxious about their future, 61% believed it would become increasingly difficult to find employment as an optometrist, and 76% believed salaries would be compromised due to over-supply.
Optometry Australia Support Applauded
Services provided by Optometry Australia to its members were appreciated, with 92% nominating the 50% discount on membership fees for FY20/21 highly valuable. Webcasts were nominated as highly valuable by 79% of members and 73# sid the Association’s communications during the height of the pandemic in April were also highly valuable. The Association’s COVID Hub was accessed by 3,020 members. Impressively, 90% of all members cited they felt highly supported by Optometry Australia.
The survey states that the results strengthen the Associations resolve “to drive the necessary change needed to take control of our future.
“We appreciate that the pandemic is a long way from being over and that COVID-19 is on the rise again in parts of Australia. We will continue to be here to support our members and to provide the services and the information they need to make informed decisions. We are incredibly appreciative of their input into this survey.”