Changing perceptions

How the public views optometrists is shifting according to the latest General Optical Council data

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A common source of frustration among UK optometrists is the gap between how the public perceives the profession and the job that they fulfil every day.

While optometrists are highly trained healthcare professionals, society can sometimes pigeonhole optical practices as a place to buy spectacles rather than come for clinical treatment.

The latest General Optical Council public perceptions survey shows that this view is gradually shifting.

A survey of more than 2000 members of the public found that 30% would visit an optometrist as their first port of call if they had an eye problem – up 11 percentage points since 2015.

There was also an increase in the number of respondents who would categorise optometrists solely as a healthcare service – up four percentage points since 2019.

While over a third of those surveyed described optometrists as a healthcare service provider, half perceived the profession to be a combination of healthcare and retail provider while 12% see optometrists predominantly as a retailer.

It would be interesting to know whether the response of optometrists to the pandemic has contributed to a greater public awareness of the clinical skills that the profession has.

Anecdotally, optometrists have reported patients gaining a greater understanding of their level of training and skills as they take on an expanded role to ease the burden on secondary care.

Of course, it would be naïve to suggest that public perceptions have transformed overnight.

The terminology used within the survey itself illustrates a level of uncertainty around the role of optometrists and dispensing opticians.

“The term ‘optician’ has been used throughout the research rather than the two distinct optical professions the GOC regulates – optometrists and dispensing opticians. This term was used throughout the research to avoid confusion on the assumption that the public do not clearly distinguish between the two professions,” the survey report states.

While there is still work to be done, it is at least encouraging that attitudes are beginning to shift to recognise the valuable role that optometrists play in primary care.

As always, OT welcomes your thoughts on the topic. Please get in touch.

OT  asks...

Do you think patients have a greater appreciation for the clinical side of your role than they did before the pandemic?
  • Yes

    86 80%
  • No

    21 19%