A survey of more than 500 Australian parents of children who see eyecare professionals has revealed the biggest barriers to care during COVID-19, common reasons for seeking a second opinion and perceptions about the expertise of ophthalmologists and optometrists, including the level of care in corporate vs independent settings.
The ‘2022 Little Aussie Eyes Report’ is the third such survey compiled by Sunshine Coast-based Kids Eye Gear, which is operated by Ms Nicola Rivett and provides eye patches and other optical accessories for children. It builds on the inaugural 2020 survey of 450 Australian parents of children that wear prescription glasses, contact lenses or patch for various medical reasons, and a 2021 survey of 860 parents.
This year’s survey involved more than 500 parents surveyed about their child’s’ vision and eyecare, and included the impacts of COVID-19 on children’s vision and perceptions of children’s eyecare and eyecare professionals.
Impact of pandemic on children’s eyecare
According to the report, parents reported that COVID-19 impacted the eyecare of more than one in four (26%) Australian children who have vision issues and see an eyecare professional.
This was largely the result of delayed and cancelled appointments and the impacts of lockdowns and restrictions. Children in regional areas were harder hit; 22% of kids in the five capital cities were impacted, but this increased to 32% for their regional counterparts.
Children with more serious eye conditions – typically those that see ophthalmologists – were more impacted by the pandemic than those children with more standard vision problems (those that see optometrists).
More than one in three children (36%) that see an ophthalmologist had their eyecare impacted, compared with one in four (26%) that see an optometrist.
Barriers to attending appointments during the pandemic
Overall, 46% of parents said they had barriers to attend appointments during the pandemic.
“When it came to specific barriers to attending eyecare appointments in the past two years, the main issues for these families were not being able to bring children or partners to appointments due to appointment restrictions, appointments being delayed by the clinician, and not feeling safe to attend appointments,” the report stated.
Support in eyecare treatment
The survey found 89% of parents feel supported in their child’s eyecare treatment.
Interestingly, those that see optometrists are more inclined to feel supported and feel well informed about their child’s eye condition than those that see ophthalmologists.
“It’s possible that this is due to the likelihood that the children needing to see specialists will have more complex eye conditions, and may feel confused about their child’s condition and treatment,” the report stated.
“The majority of parents were happy with the diagnosis and treatment they were given for their child’s eye condition. But, 15% of parents have taken their child for a second opinion from another eyecare professional after their child’s initial diagnosis.
“There were a variety of reasons for seeking a second opinion but it largely came down to being referred on to a different type of eyecare professional, poor rapport with the eyecare professional, not trusting the initial diagnosis to be correct, for ‘peace of mind’ in the diagnosis and treatment, wanting to pursue care in the private system, and the child still struggling with vision even after correction.”
Perception of optometrists
When asked if all optometrists provide an equal standard of expertise and care, one in three parents agreed, but the same number also believed they don’t.
When looking more specifically at optometry practices, the report said the majority of parents (40%) believe large chain store optometry practices offer the same level of expertise and care as independent optometry practices. There does appear to be a degree of confusion though, with more than one in three not sure that this is the case.
“Again when we compare those that see ophthalmologists and those that see optometrists, we see that the parents that visit specialists are twice as likely to disagree that all practices are the same,” the report concluded.
The full 2022 Little Aussie Eyes Report can be accessed here.