There is, perhaps, no other healthcare profession which attracts a visit by the vast majority of the population on such a routine (perhaps every 2 years) basis. As such, optometry data is by its very nature, representative, and has the capacity to provide longitudinal healthcare data. The data collected is not even limited to eye health. Optometrists routinely capture extensive data relating to general health such as medical conditions, medication, family history, lifestyle habits, risk factors such as smoking and much more. All of this can be used for healthcare planning purposes.
At the Centre for Eye Research Ireland (CERI) we have started to investigate the usefulness of optometry data in an ethics committee approved study. We have been working to analyse trends in eyecare data captured during optometry consultations. In cooperation with practice owners and following GDPR requirements, anonymised data has been gathered from 28 optometry practices around Ireland, leading to our dataset containing over 500,000 patient visits from almost 250,000 unique individuals in the Irish population – far in excess of any longitudinal epidemiology study ever conducted. We have assessed the “representativeness” of this data by comparing to Irish census data and observed that the proportion of individuals attending optometry practices from approximately age 45 onwards, very closely matches the proportion of individuals over 45 in the overall Irish population. Given the universality of presbyopia, this is not surprising and is important as it allows robust conclusions to be drawn about research questions we define.