“Change is coming and we must all be ready for it”

Founder and chairman of Specsavers, Doug Perkins, discusses the role that technology will play in what optometry looks like in the future

Animation of a blue and black robotic arm with an out stretched hand. A small man is standing on the palm of the robot's hand looking through a telescope

I’ve always been a keen advocate for a continuous rise in the standard of optometry. As the technology revolution unfolds, our clinical journey needs to be easier and more accessible than ever. We are living in a decade of change – I am convinced our industry is going to see more change in the next decade than in the previous 30 years, and that high quality clinicians will continue to be absolutely fundamental.

Technology is driving other options for access to refractions and product. Online fulfilment in various iterations, sight testing in pop-up booths and artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted clinical decision making already exists. They will become more prominent and accessible. Some people think this will be the end of community optometrists but in my view community optometry has a great future.

Language and technology

I use the term ‘AI-assisted clinical decision making’ quite deliberately because tools that make use of AI help optometrists detect disease. It’s the optometrist who must ask the right questions during the eye examination and make the decision about the management plan.

We need to support clinicians to adapt and thrive in this brave new world, and this will safeguard patient outcomes. As long as we manage change and demonstrate our value to the patients we are caring for now, they will be less likely to consider other providers or care options that may lower the standard of their overall care. We want to look after everyone we can in our communities and do more to help the health service, so there has never been a more critical time to invest in training and technology to enable clinicians to be the best they can be.

I am convinced our industry is going to see more change in the next decade than in the previous 30 years, and that high quality clinicians will continue to be absolutely fundamental


We must remember that many of the refracture and screening processes will become fully automated in this decade. Technological adoption now will allow optometrists to provide high quality eyecare more readily. This includes using the power of clinical data to improve outcomes and to provide people with choice on how they interact with us. My vision is to improve both the patient and practitioner experience and allow more time for quality interactions with patients to better understand their needs and also to help them appreciate that they are in expert hands. Alternative sight testing will only become more accessible and prevalent in coming years. The only way to safeguard the public and their eye health is to raise awareness of the benefits of the expert services delivered by community optometrists.

Educating and informing patients

Optometrists need to educate each and every patient about the importance of regular eye care in their clinics, explaining the long-term benefits of good eye health care, including patients in the decision making, and demonstrating their expertise so they keep coming back. Through innovation and a proactive approach, we can keep our patients coming into optometry practices, providing them with the full scope care and experience they are seeking.

Practitioners need to embrace change. My call is for optometrists to upskill using higher qualifications and to assist in the development of those around them. A perfect example of where optometrists can make a huge difference right now is by helping to upskill and mentor their teams. As our industry transforms, we need to recognise that people are the single most critical element in delivering this change – clinicians and the teams that support them. We must develop career pathways that attract and retain strong clinical teams and leadership that brings our clinicians on this journey with us.

Change is coming and we must all be ready for it. Failing to adapt is not an option. We must safeguard our expertise and the eye health of our nation.

About the author

Doug Perkins is chairman and founder of Specsavers.