Time constraints and commercial pressures among perceived risks in optometry

GOC analysis highlights that while risk within the optical professions is low compared to other healthcare professions, it could increase in the future

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New research commissioned by the General Optical Council (GOC) has examined risk within the optical professions.

The work, which was carried out by Enventure Research, highlighted that while risk within the optical professions remains low compared to other healthcare professions, it may increase in the future as GOC registrants take on more clinical work.

The research involved an online registrant survey alongside focus groups and in-depth interviews. An analysis of GOC fitness to practise and Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) cases was also performed.

The most allegations raised in fitness to practise cases against optometrists and dispensing opticians were a missed or incorrect diagnosis (27%), inappropriate or missed referrals (24%), failure to conduct appropriate tests (23%), incorrect prescriptions (21%), inaccurate or inadequate advice (20%) and poor record keeping (20%).

Around half of fitness to practise complaints against business registrants related to multiples (51%), with 37% relating to independent practices, 6% to practices based in supermarkets, 6% relating to laser surgery premises and one case relating to a prison environment.

The OCCS data revealed that 43% of complaints related to goods and services, while 28% of complaints were about customer care.

Good and services complaints included errors in prescription, dispensing, outcomes of laser eye surgery and prescriptions prescribed in one practice and dispensed in another.

Customer care complaints included complaint handling, attitude, delays in supply and failure to deal with concerns or complaints.

Time constraints with patients, commercial and performance target pressure, poor or inadequate staffing and working as a locum were among areas of practice that registrants associated with risk.

Perceived future risks to patients identified through the research included commercial pressure and time constraints, pressure on hospital services, a lack of training and skills for enhanced optical services and the unregulated online sale of contact lenses and spectacles.

The GOC’s interim director of education, Dr Subo Shanmuganathan, highlighted that the optical sector has changed significantly since the research was last conducted in 2010.

“This research has provided a wealth of invaluable information about both the perceptions of risk and what we see as trends from our FTP cases. The research findings will help improve the actions we take to protect patients,” she emphasised.

AOP policy adviser, Kathy Jones said that the GOC’s analysis provides useful insight on where practitioners believe risk is within the profession.

“There are some clear parallels between registrants’ perceptions of risk and the sources of stress cited by respondents in the AOP's Health and Wellbeing Survey in 2017,” she shared.

“The top five stress factors were large numbers of patients, pressures to sell glasses, too few rest breaks, insufficient time for sight tests, and commercial targets. These findings, which closely match factors in the GOC’s research, highlight that registrants experience stress about the things they feel are risk areas,” Ms Jones emphasised.