Article Date: 10/1/2004

o.d. to o.d.
How to Respond to Organized Ophthalmology
Ophthalmology has banned us from their meetings and has portrayed optometry in a negative light. But rather than complain, it's optometry's turn to go on the offensive.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor

Over the past several months, we've seen ophthalmology ban us, as optometrists, from attending courses at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's meeting. We've also seen the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons ban us from its meeting. And we've seen ophthalmologists present "studies" that seem to show optometry as "over-prescribers."

All of this posturing has spawned numerous ophthalmologist-penned editorials that clearly show ophthalmology's true colors. As these events developed, I have, for the most part, sat back and watched. I'm surprised, amazed and bewildered, not by the ophthalmologists' actions, but by the fact that optometrists were surprised by it all. Perhaps the recent expansion of optometry's scope of practice gave many optometrists the sense that things have changed. In many respects they have, but it's clear that ophthalmologists continue to view optometrists more as a threat than as colleagues.

Actions speak louder

So what's the appropriate response? I suggest that we not idly sit back and complain about how inappropriate ophthalmology's actions have been, how misguided its positions might be or how inaccurate its perceptions of our prescribing habits appear.

Rather, I suggest that now is the time for us to go on the offensive -- not by misrepresenting allegations about what optometry is, has been or could be -- but by continuing to move optometry in the direction that we've chosen. We should continue to expand the scope of optometric practice through education. We must improve, to an even greater degree, our ability to provide primary care in addition to the core competencies that we possess in the areas of comprehensive eye exams, the prescribing of spectacles and contact lenses.

Addition, not replacement

It's important to recognize that I say "in addition to" rather than "instead of." It has been shown time and time again that the patient who depends on our core services today will ultimately become the patient who depends on our primary care services tomorrow. In fact, most patients don't really use primary care services (or to any great degree, medically related eye care) until the age of 40 and beyond.

Our ability to gain new patients and educate them as to our ability to provide comprehensive eye care, even on vision-related patient visits, will prove to be seeds well-planted and from them we will reap great benefits in the future of our practices.

Contribute to your success

Simultaneously, we must all --that is, every one of us -- do our share in contributing to state and national optometric political action funds. These funds put ourselves in a posture to defend what we have already gained in scope of practice. Just as important, optometric organizations use the funds to advance our scope of practice even further.

So if you're wishing that someone would do something about ophthalmology, then realizes that it starts with you and me, in our own offices with our own patients and with our own checkbooks. Are you willing to do something?


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2004