A public perceptions survey commissioned by the General Optical Council (GOC) has revealed that 59% of respondents think optometrists are under pressure to sell unnecessary products and services.
Despite this influence, most people said they did not feel like they were being persuaded into buying items they did not need when they last visited the opticians.
The overall satisfaction levels with the service received through optometrists was high (95%). Of the 5% who complained about an experience at the optometrist, half said they received an apology.
Most people saw themselves as both a customer and a patient, while opticians were seen as both a healthcare provider and retailer. However, 34% said they viewed opticians solely as a healthcare provider.
Overall, 37% said they would go to their GP if they woke up with an eye problem, compared to 24% who reported that they would go to their optician.
Respondents in Scotland (33%), Wales (32%) and Northern Ireland (27%) were all more likely to favour visiting their optician over their GP for an eye problem than survey participants based in England (20%).
Of the survey participants, 72% had visited an optician in the last two years. From this group, 70% went to a chain and 28% visited an independent optician.
In the public eye
The results of the public perceptions survey were presented at the latest GOC meeting (15 November, London).
GOC head of policy and research, David Rowland, highlighted that the research is the third annual survey that has been conducted by the optical regulator.
The survey of 3000 participants gives the GOC insight into how the public views optometrists, Mr Rowland explained.
“It helps us to understand the challenges and the risks within the sector,” he added.
The optical sector is changing “at some pace,” Mr Rowland emphasised, with the development of extended services and automated technology.
“As those changes are rolled out, we think it is important to find out what patients and the public think,” he added.
The research revealed that 43% of people would be happy to have their sight tested by a machine without an optician being present.
Mr Rowland highlighted that there was a split in how people felt about automation – older people were generally less comfortable while younger age groups were more comfortable with the increasing role of machines.
A focus group with glaucoma patients found that they would prefer for their condition to be managed in a hospital setting rather than by an optician.
GOC councillor, David Parkins, who is part of a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence group involved with the development of updated glaucoma guidelines, told the meeting the guidelines made it clear that glaucoma does not need to be managed in tertiary care.
While glaucoma patients may prefer to be managed in hospital, there were treatment delays in this setting, he highlighted.
“Where would you rather be seen – on time or in hospital?” he emphasised.