Purpose: To describe optometric practitioners and their encountering patients.
Methods: All members of the Norwegian Association of Optometrists working in the community (n = 761) were invited to participate in a questionnaire survey; questionnaire responders (n = 508) were asked to take part in a practice registration. Data collection was carried out between November 2004 and May 2005 using a questionnaire and a practice registration form.
Results: Five hundred and eight optometrists responded to the questionnaire; of these 212 participated in the practice registration, in which 4052 patient encounters were recorded. All optometrists reported taking patient history in the areas of vision and ocular health; 55% asked questions about general health for all patients. More than 80% collaborated with general practitioners and ophthalmologists. The patient encounters were with 1699 men and 2216 women; 60% of patients were aged 45 years or older. Patients reported a history of ocular disease and other conditions of relevance for ocular health in 12% and 17% of encounters, respectively. One per cent had low vision [best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) < 0.33] and 2% were visually impaired (BCVA < 0.5). Ophthalmoscopy was performed for 88% of patients; dilated fundus examinations were carried out for 2%; clinical findings of cataract were reported for 11%; and retinopathy was suspected in 3%. Six per cent of patients were referred to a general practitioner or ophthalmologist.
Conclusion: Optometrists generally collaborate with general practitioners and ophthalmologists. They take history, investigate and assess patients with ocular problems. A significant number of patients had primary or secondary ocular disease. This illustrates the role of optometrists as healthcare workers.