BACKGROUND: While information technology (IT) is playing an increasing role in the delivery of optometric services, little specific information is available about how IT is changing the practice of optometry in Canada or whether optometry schools are adequately preparing their students to use this technology when they graduate.
METHODS: Quantitative data on how IT is being used, as well as related barriers and potential benefits, were obtained in a survey of Canadian optometrists (N = 474). Three site visits were made to geographically dispersed Canadian optometry practices identified as exemplars of IT adoption.
RESULTS: More than 96% of Canadian optometrists use computers in their practices, but fewer have integrated computers into their examination rooms. Optometrists are regularly using computers to manage their practices and medical record keeping. The automated perimeter is the clinical assessment technology most used (88.4%), followed by the autorefractor (83.9%) and the autokeratometer (72.2%). The anterior segment camera is the technology most likely to be acquired within the next 5 years (36.9%), followed by the scanning laser ophthalmoscope (26.8%). Major benefits of IT for optometrists include being better able to provide patients with images and information to explain results and to inspire greater patient confidence that the practice is state of the art. Perceived barriers include the need for frequent updates, lack of resources for training, and cost. There is support for increased exposure to IT as part of training in optometry.
CONCLUSIONS: Use of IT in optometry practices is widespread and likely to continue to increase in the years ahead. IT may be a key element in the future success of optometry practices in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Perceptions of high investment and training costs are barriers to further adoption. Optometrists may benefit from increased exposure to IT as part of their training.