Read about the optometry industry trends we're watching for 2018 and beyond.

Optometry Industry Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2018 & Beyond

By Freddie Rohner, iHire

It’s clear to see that the future is bright for the eye care industry. A recent optometry market analysis conducted by Harris Williams & Co. showed a number of promising optometry industry trends.

For starters, the compound annual growth rates (CAGRs) for independent optometrists (2.8%) and mass retailers (3.1%) are surprisingly similar even though the two areas are viewed as direct competitors. Ophthalmologists are doing even better, with annual growth of 4%–5%.

As a whole, the three segments that make up the vision care industry represent an approximately $40 billion market that is projected to grow steadily throughout the next decade and beyond because of numerous factors.

 

Millennials and the Myopia Epidemic

The rate of myopia among Millennials means they will be a large segment of the vision care market for many years to come.

 

The rate of myopia (also known as nearsightedness) has nearly doubled over the last generation and roughly half of young adults in the US today are nearsighted, translating to more than $2 billion per year in associated medical costs and lost productivity. Regardless of whether the uptick in myopia rates is due to genetics or environment (less sun exposure and more screen time have both been identified as possible causes), this phenomenon will continue to increase the need for doctors’ visits and corrective lenses among younger adults.

Millennials currently represent 25% of an eye care provider’s patient base, and as adults age, eyesight problems become more prevalent, so this number will surely grow. It won’t be long before Millennials constitute the most important patient segment of the optical industry – a place currently held by many of their parents: Baby Boomers.

 

Boomers, Blindness, and Other Age-Related Vision Disorders

Age-related vision problems experienced by Baby Boomers are key to the positive vision care industry overview.

 

Millennials may be the future, but right now the Baby Boomer generation still represents a large percentage of the vision care market. As of 2015, there were 47.8 million Americans aged 65 and older, but that number will rise to 54.8 million by 2020. From a revenue standpoint, older consumers (55+) account for 39% of eye care industry spending.

Cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are the four leading eye diseases related to age and/or lifestyle. The prevalence of all four grew from 2010 to 2020, and will continue to grow along with the aging population of the US. Here’s one final statistic to bring even more clarity to the importance of this market segment: 86% of Americans over the age of 45 rely on some form of vision correction.

 

In-House Finishing = Opportunity

In-house finishing presents opportunity for many members of the optical industry.

 

Being able to offer lens finishing services isn’t just good for customers; it’s also a highly profitable vision care area. Having an in-house finishing lab requires a modest investment (somewhere around $30,000), but practice owners benefit greatly from being able to offer quicker turnaround for patients and boosting profitability by avoiding sending lenses to an external lab for processing and/or finishing.

Depending on the practice and customer base, it can take as little as 12 jobs per month to break even with an in-house finishing operation. As more eye care practices and optical boutiques choose to offer this service, the number of opportunities for trained lab technicians will grow considerably.

 

Online Marketing and Social Media

In any optometry market analysis, it's difficult to downplay the role of online marketing.

 

No vision care industry overview would be complete without a look at the impact the Internet is having on eye care providers. Competing with online sellers is tough, and it’s only getting more difficult out there for small optical boutiques and optometry practices. However, one way to combat the ecommerce giants who dominate the vision care market is by beating them at their own game: online marketing. According to Eyecare Business, online and social media advertising are now the two most popular marketing methods among optometry businesses.

This chart from Eyecare Business shows the marketing strategies favored by many eye care providers.

Source: Eyecare Business "2017 Top 10 Mega Market Trends"

Practices that aren’t using a diverse strategy that includes email, online, and social media advertising are mission out on critical advertising opportunities. If you’re looking to stand out from the competition—and you have experience in these areas—update your resume to highlight these in-demand skills that can take your career to the next level.

 

The Rise of Physician Assistants

Physician assistants will play a huge role in the future of the eye care industry.

 

Nearly every healthcare area is experiencing a shortage in physicians, and the eye care industry is no different. As of 2013, 47% of ophthalmologists were over the age of 55, and almost half of practicing physicians plan to retire sooner in light of recent changes to healthcare regulations and the insurance market. Combined with ever-increasing demand driven by an aging population, this decrease in trained providers may produce a large gap in the vision care market.

That’s where physician assistants (PAs) come in. These advanced practitioners (sometimes called “physician extenders”) have been shouldering the patient load in the medical community for decades, but only recently has their use grown in optometry and ophthalmology. The logic is obvious though—hiring PAs allows your practice to take on more patients, which increases billings without the added overhead of hiring another MD or DO. If you’re considering returning to school to take the next step in your eye care career, investigate PA programs in your area rather than the more obvious optometrist or ophthalmologist route.

 

All optometry market analysis aside, the health of the optical industry comes down to simple economics. It will be difficult to maintain a large enough supply of ophthalmologists, optometrists, opticians, and other support staff to meet the great demand for vision care, so professionals in those roles will have no shortage of opportunities to choose from. So take advantage of all these optometry industry trends and take the next step in your eye care career!


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