AOA steps up efforts to guide NAM vision study

July 31, 2015
Addressed IOM project groups on expanding access to ODs, regular eye exams.

AOA President-elect Andrea P. Thau, O.D., and other AOA members addressed Committee on Public Health Approaches to Reduce Vision Impairment and Promote Eye Health on July 28.

AOA President-elect Andrea P. Thau, O.D., and other AOA members, highlighted optometry's expertise in recent panel discussions with leading public health experts as part of an ongoing study on vision loss and the nation's eye health.

The National Academy of Medicine (NAM)—formerly Institute of Medicine—Committee on Public Health Approaches to Reduce Vision Impairment and Promote Eye Health convened July 28 to solicit information as part of its 24-month consensus study that examines the core principles and public health strategies to improve eye health. The findings will be published in a 500-page report.

Among the six different panel sessions, Dr. Thau addressed the committee on the importance of the comprehensive eye exam as foundational for innovative, integrated models of vision care to expand access.

Dr. Thau emphasized:

  • Dilated, comprehensive eye exams are the primary prevention modality for detecting eye diseases and vision conditions early;
  • Vision screenings result in a high rate of false negatives, do not link those in need to care and can prove a barrier to quality care;
  • The optometric workforce is poised to handle the eye exam needs of children before starting school, for working-age adults and for America's seniors;
  • Care models already in place at entities such as State University of New York University Eye Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense—that emphasize comprehensive eye exams—have proven successful; and,

"As this committee works toward identifying the best public health approach to promoting eye health and reducing vision impairment, I reminded them that they need look no further than direct access to doctors of optometry for regular, in-person comprehensive eye exams," Dr. Thau said.

"I made clear that doctors of optometry play a key public health role and that regular comprehensive eye exams are the best and only way to fully protect someone's vision and eye health. We can either continue using ineffective screening programs; or, we can pour all of our energy into a proven public health approach by ensuring that more Americans have coverage for regular eye examinations and that they actually receive the diagnosis and care that they need," Dr. Thau added.

Dr. Thau was one of three AOA members presenting to the committee. Jorge Cuadros, O.D., Ph.D., University of California-Berkley director of clinical infomatics research, also presented on Dr. Thau's panel; and Susan Primo, O.D., Emory Eye Center director of vision and optical services, low vision, presented on the AOA's evidence-based guidelines, as well as the delivery of eye and vision care in community health care settings.

The NAM committee includes three AOA members: Lori Grover, O.D., Ph.D.; Edwin Marshall, O.D.; and Sandra Block, O.D.

Importance of AOA contribution to consensus study

AOA decided to sponsor the consensus study to provide a vital, common-sense perspective that has been missing in previous public health studies. Namely, that the most clinically effective and cost-efficient, preventive public health intervention for the wide range of vision care needs facing Americans remains a comprehensive eye exam.

As studies and reports released by NAM are widely circulated among Capitol Hill and federal agencies, and often impact policies for a decade or more, it's important that the benefits of comprehensive eye exams not be overlooked as a solution to promoting vision and eye health.

AOA Immediate Past President David A. Cockrell, O.D., reinforced that point before this same committee in May when pledging AOA support of the study: "The only preventive public health intervention that will accomplish the goals of the consensus study is regular, comprehensive eye examination provided in-person by an eye doctor."

Read more about the consensus study and the four areas of prioritization that Dr. Cockrell outlined in his May presentation.

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