AOA, ASCO, Lewin join forces for definitive study of supply, demand in eye care workforce

November 15, 2011

Efforts by the AOA, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), and one of the nation’s most respected health care research firms are now under way to produce a comprehensive portrait of supply and demand for eye and vision care in the United States.

The study is intended to provide a comprehensive resource document that lawmakers and administrators can use in establishing public- and private-sector health care policy over the coming decades.

According to Randolph Brooks, O.D., chair of the AOA-ASCO Optometry Workforce Project Team, the new AOA-ASCO Optometry Workforce Study will provide objective data and analysis on the current status of the eye care market in the United States as well as a flexible model to predict changes in supply and demand in the future.  A first-of-its-kind comprehensive data base of all practicing eye care providers in the United States will be developed in conjunction with the study.

“It is critical that this study be recognized by lawmakers and policy experts as the definitive assessment of supply and demand for eye and vision care in the U.S. over the foreseeable future,” said ASCO President Kevin Alexander, O.D., Ph.D., who represents the association on the project team. “Our intent is to provide a resource that will be widely accepted by lawmakers and health policy experts and can be relied on as a basis for health care policy decisions in both the public and private sectors.”

“Eye health and good vision are widely expected to take on renewed importance as health care issues over the coming years,” noted AOA President Dori Carlson, O.D.  “It is important, at this time, to accurately assess present and future demand for eye and vision care and assess the ability of optometry to meet that demand.”

The Lewin Group, widely recognized as the “gold standard of health care policy research organizations,” has been retained to conduct the study in cooperation with ASCO and the AOA Advocacy Group, Dr. Brooks said. Headquartered in Falls Church, Va., The Lewin Group is highly respected for providing public and private sector entities with objective policy analysis and research on health care reform and health workforce.

Their company Web site outlines extensive policies and procedures used to ensure the objectively and reliability of its studies. The Lewin Group deals only in data and analytical reports; the company does not advocate for policies, programs or legislation, the Web site emphasizes.

Republicans and Democrats – from health care reform proponent Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to reform critic Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) – frequently cite Lewin Group reports.  House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R) often cites Lewin Group data, noting the organization is “nonpartisan.”

Considerable health care policy is already based on Lewin Group reports, the AOA-ASCO Optometry Workforce Project Team noted.

The firm has authored numerous reports for U.S. Department of Health & Human Services entities such as the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and National Institutes of Health. It has also studied issues for influential foundations such the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Commonwealth Fund, and Heritage Foundation.

Changing environment

The new workforce study is intended to provide accurate projections of eye care supply and demand in a rapidly changing health care environment, Drs. Brooks and Alexander said.

Federal health care reforms (which mandate an array of new care and payment models), proposed reductions in Medicare and Medicaid funding, the aging of the U.S. population, rapidly increasing incidence of type II diabetes and other systemic health conditions, increased use of computers and other electronic devices, and the development of new eye care treatments are among the many factors that could affect supply and demand for eye and vision care over the coming years, they note.

The AOA last formally studied eye care supply and demand in 1999 with its Workforce Study of Optometry, prepared by the Cambridge, Mass.-based research organization, Abt Associates, Inc.

That report was compiled well before the enactment of federal health care reform legislation, the rise of the diabetes epidemic, and serious calls for Medicare cuts, Drs. Brooks and Alexander note.

The AOA-ASCO project team officially began work on the new study in October.
 A multidisciplinary team, consisting of an economist, a public health researcher, a statistician, a software developer and several policy analysts has already been assembled by The Lewin Group to work on the project.

“Collectively, the team offers extensive experience in health care workforce research, disease burden analysis, and statistical model development,” Dr. Brooks said. 

The new study is to be completed by fall of 2012, according to the project team. The planned database of practicing U.S. eye care providers is to be completed about the same time.

The database will provide accurate data on not only the number of eye care providers in the nation but their distribution, demographics, the services and products they offer, and the manner in which they practice.

Such information will be essential when formulating policy on a range of issues from health care access to specific rules on the mix of health care professionals required on the provider panels for new health care models, they said.

The database will be continuously updated, they emphasize.

Additional information on The Lewin Group can be found on the firm’s Web site (www.lewin.com). Additional information on the study will be posted on the AOA Web site (www.aoa.org).

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