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What’s on the horizon in 2022?

With 2021 not going to plan for most, 2022 should see a return to normality in many respects, with in-person events recommencing and pent-up demand for eyecare services levelling out. Prominent figures within the ophthalmic sector offer their predictions for the year ahead.

Finola Carey
Optical Distributors & Manufacturers Association, CEO

Coupling diagnostic equipment with artificial intelligence (AI) applications is going to become the biggest trend to shape the ophthalmic equipment industry and beyond, not just this year but in the next decade. For example, coupling AI with retinal images allows medical professionals to make assessments beyond eye disease that reflect the overall health of the patient such as cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s.

ODMA’s biggest challenge – and its biggest opportunity – for 2022 is bouncing back from the cancellation of our last two shows, bringing a reinvigorated OSHOW22 to Sydney and marketing O=MEGA23, incorporating the 4th World Congress of Optometry, globally and to our Australia and New Zealand community.

ODMA will undergo changes, as after 26 years I am taking an extended long service leave break from the industry. In my absence our general manager Amanda Trotman, who many will know from her role as event manager of O=MEGA21, will be acting CEO.

James Thiedman
Vision Eye Institute, CEO

Financial challenges for Vision Eye Institute (VEI) and other players will be front of mind. Additional PPE costs, insurance premiums, wage escalation and supply chain cost appreciation are here to stay. Coupled with funding compression from Medicare and private health insurers, we’re challenged to deliver more, with less. That said, with our scale and innovation culture, we’re implementing new cost saving methods while maintaining exemplary care and outcomes.

VEI continues to partner with ophthalmologists and other surgical specialities in our 10 day hospitals. Further opportunities await this year as smaller practices and single day hospitals become fatigued with accreditation demands, risk management, payer management, industrial relations and marketing to patients and referrers. VEI’s scale and professional management allow these facets to be dealt with in the background so doctors can focus on delivering care.

2021 was special as VEI marked 20 years. In 2022, we will continue to invest in clinical technology, staff development and streamlining the patient journey. We also expect announcements regarding our international expansion – watch this space.

Dr Kate Gifford
Optometrist, professional educator, clinician-scientist, Myopia Profile

Myopia is the biggest sight issue affecting our children today and will become an increasing eye health problem for our adults of tomorrow. Another difficult year of digital learning and lockdowns will likely see continued march of the world’s population towards higher rates of myopia.

In 2021, momentous events were the World Council of Optometry unanimously resolving that myopia management must become standard of care; and the International Myopia Institute publishing its second volume of landmark reports. In 2022, I’m looking forward to seeing more awareness, education and access to treatments driving a bigger shift in translating research into practice. New product releases, wider release of current treatments, and highly awaited research outcomes are on the agenda.

The next wave of innovations and understanding will be presented at the biennial International Myopia Conference in late 2022. As the world’s largest digital platform on the topic, Myopia Profile will continue to support eyecare locally and globally with cutting-edge education, resources and public awareness.

Dr Peter Sumich
Australian Society of Ophthalmologists, vice-president

The year 2022 will be tumultuous after the relative quiet of COVID in 2021. The Federal election looms large over everything although early indications are that health policy will be secondary to inflation, economy and climate.

In the disorganised crowd of a group brawl, it pays to keep one’s eyes on the bad actor in the crowd – private health insurers. They have designs on a managed care agenda via stealth which they hope to achieve through surreptitious contracting, bundling and private day surgery ownership stakes.

If there is a change of government, the whole health landscape becomes uncertain until the 2022 Australian Labor Party philosophies become apparent. Expect inflation to become a problem for all players in the health chain with the exposed health insurers beating down hard on everyone else to maintain margins. Employment is becoming tighter with work from home trends, so expect to pay more for workforce. Those things aside, the pent-up healthcare demand should presage a strong year for most.

Prof Nitin Verma
RANZCO, president 

Like all Australians and New Zealanders, I am optimistic 2022 will be a year of reconnection.

With successful national vaccine rollouts and travel recommencing, I see 2022 as the year that ophthalmologists can reconnect with each other and with their work, whether it be outreach, locums, research or international development.

Ophthalmologists are collaborative by nature and although we have employed novel workarounds in a virtual setting, nothing replaces a face-to-face connection.

The national, speciality and branch scientific meetings planned for this year will allow such interactions to occur. Reconnecting with each other will also be important as RANZCO works towards Closing the Gap, along with its partners.

Dr Rachel David 
Private Healthcare Australia, CEO

This time last year we had high hopes for a more ‘normal’ 2021 but the challenges of COVID kept on coming and the health sector kept on delivering.

Australian health funds continued to offer support to members during the pandemic, postponed the premium increase, funded telehealth services, and extended financial support measures to those impacted by the pandemic. The value of private health insurance was increasingly recognised; with record public hospital wait lists, it is the best way to ensure timely access to surgery. Membership across general treatment and hospital cover increased.

Now that Australia is meeting vaccination targets and restrictions have eased, it’s important that members keep up with regular health checks. PHA is committed to ensuring private health insurance is affordable, so Australians can access allied health treatments and timely medical care. During 2022, I will continue to work with healthcare stakeholders and government to achieve this.

Dee Hopkins
Macular Disease Foundation Australia, CEO

Our hope for 2022, and with the formation of the 47th Parliament, will see the wider sector and government working together to measurably improve access to intravitreal injections – particularly for patients who experience financial hardship and those living in regional and rural areas. MDFA will continue its strong advocacy in ensuring recommendations in the MBS Review will not have any adverse impact on patients.

We aim to keep the co-developed 10-year National Strategic Action Plan for Macular Disease at the forefront of our engagement with government and the sector more broadly – for enhanced prevention and early detection, actions to better support those living with macular conditions, and increased investment in eye health research.

We are excited about piloting new, innovative partnership programs that aim to tackle the problem of non-adherence to sight saving treatment and testing practical patient engagement interventions to reduce modifiable risk factors.

Paul Bott
Specsavers Australia and New Zealand, managing director

We see 2022 as a year of opportunity to deliver an ever-better environment for our team members across our store and support office network. With our store partners we will invest heavily in professional development and career development, for our optometrists as well as our dispensing and retail professionals.

SCC (Specsavers Clinical Conference) will take place as an in-person event in Melbourne in September and a number of state-based SDCs (Specsavers Dispensing Conferences) will run through the year, while our Pathway program will support those with ambition all the way to store ownership roles.

While we may experience ongoing COVID-related disruptions, they won’t stop us working towards an unmatched experience for our partners, team members, their patients and customers. We will build on the 250,000 patients with diabetes we have so far registered on the KeepSight portal while continuing to strive for a 100% record in detection and referral rates for glaucoma.

Prof Hugh Taylor
University of Melbourne, Indigenous Eye Health founder 

We’ve made great progress in establishing regional stakeholder networks nationwide that link the ACCHOs with service providers and local hospitals. The government has prioritised and committed to “End avoidable blindness by 2025” for Indigenous Australians. Now it needs to release its implementation plan to build and strengthen the services required. An important component will be improving leadership and ownership among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The Roadmap to Close the Gap for Vision was released in early 2012. When the government implements its priority to “End avoidable blindness by 2025”, the roadmap will have been essentially completed. The Indigenous Eye Health unit will recast our role, focussing on technical support and advice to strengthen Indigenous leadership in the ACCHOs, the regions, the states and territories and nationally.

The next National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference will be in Darwin 24-26 May 2022. This “must come event” is for those interested or working in Indigenous eyecare.

Prof Robyn Jamieson
Ocular Gene and Cell Therapies Australia, Children’s Medical Research Institute, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, University of Sydney

Excitingly, our team delivered the first clinical ocular gene therapy in Australia in 2020/21. This landmark achievement will shape new approaches in the ophthalmic gene therapy landscape in 2022, as more ophthalmic and genetic services and patients with inherited retinal diseases (IRDs) seek access to eligibility criteria assessment for this and new clinical trials.

To tackle this challenge, our newly-formed collaborative organisation, Ocular Gene and Cell Therapies Australia (OGCTA), has established a virtual multidisciplinary case conference approach, the OcularGen MDT, to facilitate equity of access to eligibility assessment for ocular genetic therapies and clinical trials.

Other challenges to be addressed by our team include streamlining of retinal organoid and other functional study pipelines in assessment of genetic variants and development of novel IRD therapy approaches. The 25th International Society for Eye Research meeting is scheduled in Australia in September and ophthalmic therapeutics will be a key focus.

Annie Gibbins
Glaucoma Australia, CEO

Research into AI to revolutionise screening and decision making, genetic therapies that may provide real neuroprotection options, and improved medical and surgical treatments will shape the glaucoma landscape in 2022.

As an organisation, ensuring our risk awareness campaigns continue to drive testing remains our biggest challenge. But there are many opportunities to better support diagnosed and undiagnosed glaucoma patients, namely targeted marketing to increase at risk testing by optometry and more referrals to our service via Oculo and our website. We’re also excited about the progress of new research such as Professor Ewa Goldys’ (UNSW) fluorescent Hyperspectral Imaging (fHSI) novel glaucoma imaging tool and Dr Flora Hui’s (CERA) TAMING Glaucoma Trial (Targeting Metabolic Insufficiency in Glaucoma with Nicotinamide).

To coincide with World Glaucoma Week (6-12 March), GA is launching its inaugural fundraiser, the 7 Sights in 7 Days Challenge.

Brendon Gardner
The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, CEO

This year holds much anticipation for everyone at the Eye and Ear. The final part of our redevelopment will be completed which will provide our patients, staff and visitors with a world-class hospital that is reflective of the top-quality care that has been offered at the hospital for over 150 years now.

Unquestionably the demands that have been placed on healthcare workers in 2021 – as was the case for 2020 – have been vast. However, I think there is a degree of cautious optimism for the new year borne of climbing vaccination numbers and more refined processes in managing COVID-19 based on the learnings of the last two years.

Every day I am in awe of the expertise and compassion demonstrated by our staff who have continued to deliver outstanding patient care in such challenging circumstances.

Prof Keith Martin
Centre for Eye Research Australia

Gene therapy and its benefits for patients with previously untreatable eye diseases will continue to gather pace in 2022. The first Australians with the RPE-65 genetic mutation have now received the approved gene therapy Luxturna, and a clinical trial of an investigational gene therapy for dry AMD has now trialled the treatment on seven Victorian patients.

CERA’s pre-clinical research to develop new gene therapies is yielding promising results in the lab, with some treatments moving closer to clinical trial phase. As a translational research institute we are excited by the potential of gene therapy research and committed to giving Australians early access to pioneering new treatments – developed in Australia and overseas – via clinical trial.

In 2022 we are also excited to add new areas to our research program including genetic engineering, clinical biomarkers, vascular neuroscience and ocular oncology to further broaden our understanding of the causes of eye disease and develop ways of diagnosing and treating eye disease to prevent vision loss.

Steven Johnston
ProVision, CEO (former)

Last year I was hoping that some of the COVID consumer behavioural shifts would become permanent, and this year I still hold that thought. Patients are choosing to shop local and avoid crowded shopping centres, and they are looking to build personal relationships with their healthcare providers, both of which are good for our members.

ProVision continues to work on systems that will bring administrative efficiencies and growth to our members in 2022 when we release our ProAccounts2 system to enable frame data to be downloaded into the practice PMS, and introduce a web platform that will bring new patients to our practices.

It is awesome to see the number of younger optometrists interested in setting up independent greenfield practices in 2022. We are also genuinely excited about our Look Forward national conference at Crown Perth which is scheduled for 21-23 October and will be our first national get together in four years.

Philip Rose
Eyecare Plus, national business development manager 

As the lockdowns end, local independent optometry is recovering well and returning to clinical in-person service. One of the challenges for 2022 will be navigating the issues around seeing unvaccinated patients or supplier representatives, as well as within the practice staff.

For me, an obvious factor over the past year is the accelerated implementation of various online opportunities for patient communication and for Eyecare Plus, our e-commerce site. Streamlining stock and spec ordering, improving purchasing efficiencies, has also been a focus for us.

I look forward to seeing Eyecare Plus grow its digital marketing and advertising footprint. Increased consumer recognition, validated by winning the Canstar Blue Award for Most Satisfied Customers three years in a row, is one of the benefits of having a national brand, while still being locally owned and operated.

Another highlight for me in 2022 will be returning to in-person meetings, including our Eyecare Plus National Conference in October.

Jane Schuller
Orthoptics Australia, president 

A feature expected to shape orthoptics in Australia next year is the significant waiting lists for appointments and surgeries in the public system. It’s an ideal opportunity for hospitals to maximise use of the orthoptic workforce in triaging and orthoptic-led clinics to improve clinical efficiencies and reduce wait times.

A challenge for Orthoptics Australia will be the continued uncertainty and planning for our face-to-face conferences planned for 2022. Also, many orthoptists didn’t take annual leave last year and will face a considerable patient backlog; finding the right balance on how best to support for members will be vital.

Our membership has grown considerably and we will focus on supporting early career orthoptists through several initiatives. Elsewhere, while our Australian Orthoptic Journal continues to attract original articles from Australian and overseas authors, it’s not yet indexed on Medline. We’ve commenced the application process and look forward to a favourable outcome. I’m also hoping to see commitment and support for a national scheme for Vision Screening for 3.5-5-year-old children.

Lyn Brodie
Optometry Australia, CEO

Our sector will be still dealing with COVID, with practices in many jurisdictions continuing to manage a backlog of recalls. As with others in the health sector, optometrists are concerned about ‘what have we missed?’ as a result of long lockdown periods when many appointments simply didn’t happen.

Optometry Australia will continue to champion our profession and pursue opportunities to enhance the way optometrists can meet the needs of our communities by working to full and evolving scope-of-practice and ensuring our health system makes best use of our highly skilled workforce. The federal election provides the platform to call on standing and candidate politicians to embrace greater access to timely, affordable eyecare for all Australians and we will rally members to assist in amplifying our voice.

Navigating an ever-changing environment remains essential. With 85% of the profession our members, it is imperative we continue to provide access to quality professional development that enhances their skills to meet community eyecare expectations.

Patricia Sparrow
Vision 2020 Australia 

This year is a critical one for our sector. The pandemic has had a significant impact on eye health, with 500,000 missed eye tests and extended waiting times for cataract surgery. We need to work towards ensuring all Australians are getting the eyecare they need.

The upcoming federal election gives us an opportunity to put vision and critical eye health matters on to the political agenda.

Sight-saving research, vision screening for young children, investment in global aid and public health access, action on audio description, and ensuring the needs of people who are blind or have vision loss are better supported through the reform processes in aged care and disability services are all important priorities.

Additionally, the government has promised to close the eye health gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2025 – so 2022 certainly needs to be a year of action to achieve this goal.

Prof Stephanie Watson 
Save sight Institute, Corneal Research Group head

Across the globe, dry eye is increasingly common, particularly with mask wear. In 2022 we will be using new anti-inflammatory therapies such as Xiidra and Ikervis. Ophthalmologists and optometrists will be able to track their patients’ outcomes on such new therapies with the Save Sight Dry Eye Registry. For corneal surgery more customised approaches are emerging.

The University of Sydney’s Save Sight Institute (SSI) will enter 2022 as a Flagship Centre of the University. Flagship Centres are long-term major groupings of researchers conducting world-leading research that address a significant research problem. The SSI is a global leader in eye and vision research.

At the university’s Sydney Nano, I will be the Academic Director for Innovation and Commercialisation. Sydney Nano is transforming our economy, society and everyday life with nanoscience. There will be many opportunities for eye and vision research to benefit from this exciting collaboration.

Prof Lisa Keay
UNSW Sydney, head of School of Optometry and Vision Science

It’s my sincere hope 2022 will bring opportunities for face-to-face interaction and greater collaboration across the eyecare sector. I’ve been privileged to work with an incredible team at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, UNSW since joining as Head of School in 2019. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have made great contributions towards our mission statement of ‘Advancing vision and eye health in society through world-class, innovative, multi-disciplinary education and research’.

In 2021, we introduced a new program – the Graduate Diploma in Orientation and Mobility.  Across all programs, COVID-19 restrictions have led to innovations in how we teach our students and many of these valuable initiatives will continue. We are proud to be founding members of the Leaders in Indigenous Education Network, are working to promote equitable access to our programs and ensure a first-rate educational experience. Our research programs have grown in size and breadth, leading to meaningful engagement with industry, eyecare professions, consumers and the scientific community.

Matteo Accornero
Luxottica (OPSM, Laubman & Pank), ANZ retail general manager 

For 2022, there are a few key streams of consumer behaviour that we as an organisation will be honing our skills around – the increased demand for quality and the ongoing focus on health and wellbeing.

Consumer habits, particularly around their approach to health, are something that we continue to take cues from and forming our business around that behaviour, from when and where they want to have their eyes examined, to how they want to interact with our team members. Being flexible to meet changing customer expectations will be a strong focus.

In 2022 we look to continue building upon investment, innovation and development. Our store network will continue to be refurbished with new lens and eye technologies along with the expansion of our investment in Clarifye. Our people will also be a core focus with the introduction of new ways of training for staff to further develop best practice.

 

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