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Will the Future of Healthcare Even Need Optometry?

We are amid a significant shift in our profession and healthcare delivery overall, and yet it appears many of you are either in denial or unaware of how radically it is changing.




“Come gather ’round people wherever you roam and admit that the waters around you have grown and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone. If your time to you is worth savin’ then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone for the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan

THESE WORDS FROM Bob Dylan may come to mind for any optometrist who owns their practice and has recently tried to hire an associate optometrist or, in my case, talked to a young optometrist about opening their practice. The times, they are a-changin’.
In one sense, it is simple supply and demand. The past five years have seen an acceleration in ODs selling their practices and retiring. This has boosted demand for associate ODs to fill the vacant spots. Private practice is not appealing when it’s a choice between going into debt to start your business or accepting a high six-figure salary and a generous package as an employee.

Another factor is a trend in young optometrists choosing to work part-time. To fill one full-time equivalent position, you must hire more than one individual, which makes the situation even more difficult for independent practitioners.

Compensation demanded by young optometrists reflects the disparity between low supply and high demand. The average day rate for a part-time optometrist is now above $700 and, in some markets, above $800. Keep in mind that these are the rates being paid for optometrists with less than five years of experience. For a private practice, this is unsustainable.

We are amid a significant shift in our profession and healthcare delivery overall.

Last fall, I attended an innovation conference where a new, hand-held device could measure cardiovascular health and, with an amazing degree of accuracy, predict future incidences of cardiovascular pathology. This is done by AI software reading the retina. This device is currently sold to large healthcare systems for use by primary care physicians. When I asked about marketing this device to optometry, they explained that the value of the technology is best utilized with multidisciplinary teams, which are found in large hospital or clinic systems.


Did they just say they don’t need optometry? What happens when technology replaces or significantly alters a profession’s role? When I attend optometry meetings, it appears the profession is either in denial or unaware of how radically the delivery of eye and healthcare is changing.

It’s not too late to embrace change and participate in this transformation. However, we must think differently, set aside our grievances with medicine, better prepare our young optometrists, demand more from suppliers, and seek new partnerships with new industries.

No one knows the future of our profession or the eyecare industry, but there are some things we do know — it won’t stay the same.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “…we better start swimmin’, or we’ll sink like a stone.”



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