Original Research

Are optometrists necessary in primary health care centres in Saudi Arabia?

Yousef H. Aldebasi, Mohammad I. Ahmed, William A. Monaco
African Vision and Eye Health | Vol 77, No 1 | a402 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aveh.v77i1.402 | © 2018 Yousef H. Aldebasi, Mohammad I. Ahmed, William A. Monaco | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 May 2017 | Published: 26 February 2018

About the author(s)

Yousef H. Aldebasi, Department of Optometry, Qassim University, Saudi Arabia
Mohammad I. Ahmed, Department of Ophthalmology, King Fahad Specialist Hospital, Saudi Arabia
William A. Monaco, College of Health Sciences, Salus University, United States


Purpose: To determine the prevalence and visual characteristics of patients seen by optometrists and ophthalmologists in Saudi Arabian public hospitals. This model will demonstrate the efficacy, safety and effectiveness of optometrists as the primary point of contact for eye care in primary health care centres.

Methods: A retrospective, analytical, record-based study of patients in 10 hospitals in Saudi Arabia was conducted over a period of 6 months. The hospitals were located in 3 of 14 provinces in Saudi Arabia. The current policy is that ophthalmologists be the first point of contact for patients in all hospitals. Ophthalmologists, optometrists and nurses collected the data using a predesigned data collection sheet (Appendix 1) which was divided into four sections – basic data, ocular information, ocular diagnosis and intervention. The pattern of patient examination in the eye clinics in public hospitals was analysed. Additionally, patients’ age, gender, nationality, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment were obtained from their medical records and considered for analysis. Diagnosis and treatment were classified by the scope of practice of optometrists and ophthalmologists: refraction, dispensing, rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system, detection, diagnosis and management of ocular diseases and referral to sub-specialty care were considered as optometric diagnoses. Prescription of medications and surgeries were classified as ophthalmologists’ diagnoses.

Results: A total of 2601 patient records were reviewed from the pre-selected 10 public hospitals. There are approximately 415 public hospitals in Saudi Arabia. Refractive error was the most prevalent diagnosis; 54.5% of the patients were prescribed spectacles to relieve their symptoms of poor vision at distance and/or near. Around 35% of patients received treatment in the form of medications (20.6%), surgeries (11.4%), contact lenses (0.9%), orthoptics (1.8%) and low-vision devices (0.1%). About 0.6% patients were referred for major investigations such as ultrasonography, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging scans. No active intervention or treatment except observation was recommended for 7.7% of patients, and 2.4% of patients were referred to other sub-specialties. Based on the scope of practice and diagnostic criteria, the optometry discipline received the highest number of patients and can manage nearly 68% of patients registered for consultation; thus, they can take care of the predominant portion of eye-related problems in the outpatient services in the public hospital.

Conclusion: This study clearly demonstrates that because of the disproportionate number of patients seeking care with refractive problems, optometrists can manage about two-thirds of patients visiting eye clinics of public hospitals. Thus, suggesting the need for optometrists as initial point of contact in terms of eye care services in primary health care centres. This would minimise the work load and appointment delays in public hospitals. This model will also enhance the early detection of vision-threatening eye conditions and assure appropriate referral to prevent future complications.


workflow; optometrists; ophthalmologists; eye care; hospitals; Saudi Arabia


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Crossref Citations

1. Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices of Optometrists Regarding Low Vision Services in Saudi Arabia
Godwin O. Ovenseri-Ogbomo, Waleed Alghamdi
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doi: 10.2174/1874364102115010217