College of Optometrists’ funded research identifies weaknesses in optometric data

The College of Optometrists has said that the lack of public health data on the prevalence of eye conditions is impacting on policymakers and commissioners’ ability to adequately plan and meet eye health needs.

The College has published the findings of its commissioned Ophthalmic Public Health Research Project, which identified that, despite an increasing amount of clinical data being held electronically in optometric practice systems, and a growing prevalence of eye conditions that require greater management, the data is not organised in a way that it can be used for research and service planning purposes.

The project was undertaken by College funded Ophthalmic Public Health Research Fellows to collate existing research and identify opportunities for optometry to provide public health data for use in engaging government and policymakers, and to improve understanding of ophthalmic public health by optometrists. As a result, the researchers have recommended a minimum dataset containing standard clinical information that could be used to facilitate analysis of the evidence for public health purposes and identify trends and areas of need in optometric practice.

Mike Bowen, director of research at the College, said: “A significant number of older people have undetected visual impairment, this is worse in deprived areas, and this impairment is associated with reduced quality of life. Our aim with this project was to address this need by pulling together existing evidence, and to explore the use of existing data for what it could tell us about the nation’s eye health. The project has provided an important benchmark about what information is currently available, and allows for more extensive projects, such as the National Eye Health Survey, to provide the additional data needed to understand the nation’s eye health needs.”

Darren Shickle, professor of public health at the University of Leeds and principal investigator of the research, said: “This research focused on currently available data and future data needs, to understand upcoming challenges surrounding eye health. Using the existing data, we have been able to identify inequalities in the uptake of sight tests. Sight tests involve more than identifying whether people need spectacles, and are the main way that preventable sight loss is first detected. However, there is further information needed to understand the primary eye care needs of the population, and our work with the College has also concentrated on developing a minimum data set that, if implemented, could help inform health and social care commissioners, allowing them to better understand the eye health needs of their populations.”

Key report findings are:

  • The available literature on the epidemiology of eye conditions does not provide sufficient evidence to inform recommendations on the frequency at which sight tests should be performed.
  • There is an increasing amount of clinical data held electronically in various optometric practice systems that would be of interest to researchers and public health professionals.
  • Current systems are not organised in a way that allows for interrogation of the data for research purposes.
  • The format(s) of the data held is such that data may not be easily analysed even if it is possible to extract the data from a system, as much of the data available is in free text rather than organised menus.
  • The researchers described a minimum data set that could be used for public health research if it could be extracted from optometric practice systems in a way that may be readily analysed.
  • The research group indicated how metrics may be coded to provide useful outputs for research and highlighted areas where it may be difficult to code.

The full report can be downloaded on the College of Optometrists’ website here.