I see from last month's College of Optometrists/optician survey on the public's perceptions of the profession that many patients appear happy that optometrists are to prescribe drugs for minor eye complaints. That's great, as many optoms like me are wondering how to extend our responsibilities. However, in practice it doesn't work out as easily as it sounds.
For instance, the steady stream of individuals who come into our outlet with red eye want to be seen then and there. They tend to ask: 'Is there any chance of you having a quick look at my eye?' But here's when we employed optometrists have to be careful as we have to carry out a full eye test. And that's when the patient begins to get irritated, feels we're just trying to sell spectacles to them and some back out saying they'd rather just go to their GP.
A female patient came in recently - again she was a red-eye patient - and it looked to me like a burst blood vessel. My colleagues booked her in for an eye examination. While I was doing the examination she was complaining all the time: 'Do you really need to do all these tests just to look at my eye?'
I tried to explain the necessity of carrying out the tests, but when it came to the pressure test she refused point blank to have it done. It was quite difficult to explain to her that because she came to me with this problem I had to get to the bottom of it, whatever the result. Eventually, she agreed, but not before I had to persuade her at length.
I'm all for seeing patients and prescribing, but the public's perception of us needs to change. They can learn to trust us more, but currently they see us much further down the list of healthcare professionals, certainly further down the pecking order than GPs. It is particularly difficult as the public just don't know how expensive our time really is.
One surprisingly complimentary headline finding in the College/optician survey was that men are more likely to consult opticians for their eye health than women. I found this interesting because, in my experience, most of the male patients who come in tell me their appointment has been made because 'my wife/partner booked me in'.
On re-viewing the report's findings, it appears men may well see us as lesser health professionals anyway, visiting us with minor eye problems, so there is less chance of us being the bearers of truly bad health news for them.
Did anyone see the recent salary survey that claimed on average optometrists earned £35,172? That figure is fair enough, although I bet some of you are now concerned that I get paid too much or relieved that I get less than you. But I think the typical DO's figure of £23,621 seems a bit inflated. Maybe it is an accurate figure, and I'm underestimating their true remuneration, because as I see it an outlet can't really function without a dispenser.