A tsunami of glaucoma is sweeping toward the U.S. healthcare system, according to Cynthia Mattox, MD. “So let’s get ready and hold on to your surf board.”
For many ophthalmologists, coping with the increased demand will mean teaming up with other eye-care professionals, said Dr. Mattox, director of the Glaucoma and Cataract Service, New England Eye Center, Tufts University, Boston during the Glaucoma Symposium CME at the 2016 Glaucoma 360 meeting.
There are more than 18,300 ophthalmologists practicing in the United States, a number that has not changed over the past five years, she said. That amounts to over 17,000 people per ophthalmologist. About 434 residents graduate per year, excluding those in the military, and that number has been holding steady.
Meanwhile, both ophthalmologists and the nation’s population are getting older on average. Almost half of ophthalmologists are 55 years old or older. “That has some implications for the workforce going forward,” Dr. Mattox said.
She cited an estimate by the Lewin Group, a healthcare consultant, that there will be a shortage of about 7,000 full-time ophthalmologists by 2025.
On the other hand, there are about 40,000 optometrists in the United States, with around 1,600 to 1,800 graduating per year, Dr. Mattox said. Many of them are having trouble finding work.
“Most optometrists when they are surveyed say they feel underutilized, underpaid, and interestingly two thirds of them are working two or more jobs in order to make a living,” Dr. Mattox said.
Such projections are not always reliable, she pointed out. “You always have to take this with a little grain of salt.”