Article Date: 7/1/2001

Cybercare
Connecting with Other O.D.s
Get advice from colleagues, exchange anecdotes and much more with this new and improved online optometric community forum.
By Richard Hom, O.D., F.A.A.O.

In 1995, an idea was borne out of the vision of a single O.D., Walter Mayo. He conceived the idea, then known as the "Optcom List," as a forum for O.D.s to share ideas on clinical and business practice and to serve as a community meeting place. I had the privilege of being one of those early participants and have become a loyal user.

Over the years, the Optcom List has grown and matured. It took on a new name, the "Web Board" and a new face in 1999. The Optcom List is still available to those who want to stick with it, but the Web Board has significantly simplified the usability of the List.

A melting pot for O.D.s

The main attraction of the Web Board is the broad interests of its users. You'll find noted clinicians, renowned practice management gurus and everyday general practice optometrists. Subject matter varies from contact lens care to ocular medical therapy to recent technical developments in eye care to the constant legislative battles that optometry faces. Admittedly, this range of topics isn't going to satisfy every potential user.

Dr. Mayo says he'd like to have more non-U.S. O.D. participants. For a time, many non-U.S. O.D.s became members, but their participation eventually waned. Those who've left felt that there weren't enough practice-oriented topics.

Nevertheless, he's made the Web Board user-friendly. His sign-on Web page exemplifies this with its simple and uncluttered design.

Joining the Web Board

To join the Web Board, go to http://optcom5.com/~optcom and click on the "new user" button and complete the form. Access isn't immediate because it's limited to optometrists and optometry students only. Keeping it limited for the sake of serious members hasn't been easy -- Dr. Mayo has had to kick off people who've masqueraded as O.D.s. He treasures the community atmosphere of the Web Board and encourages open and frank discussion.

Finding your way around

Once you've logged on as an accepted user, you'll see that the left side of the Web page is a list of discussion topics. The "+" and "-" signify the presence or absence of follow-up messages to the original message post. The number in parentheses shows how many read and unread messages are in that post.

An underlined message on the right side of the page tells you how many new messages have been generated during the current session. Clicking on this message isolates all new messages on the left side of the page.

The Web Board gives users a tree-like view of all e-mail messages rather than a long digest of separate e-mails. Threads organize messages with a similar theme so you can follow subjects of interest and ignore others. You'll also find a series of buttons (most of which are self-explanatory) along the top of the Web page.

The more the merrier

The Web Board is the most active of all online discussion groups devoted to optometry and it has really enriched my professional life. Because Dr. Mayo discourages commercial self-promotion, the absence of ads is strikingly obvious. Instead, support comes mostly from non-profit organizations.

The future of the Web Board depends on its membership. Its shape and form reflects the interests of its constituents. As a member, I look forward to a more embracing membership. And that requires a high degree of tolerance among its users. Technology even has a role in this forum by presenting more media-rich services to Web Board members. 

Dr. Hom has a rich background in e-commerce. He practiced optometry in a variety of settings and currently practices part-time in San Francisco, exclusively caring for complicated contact lens patients. He is now a partner and business development manager for Network Appliance in Sunnyvale, Calif.


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2001