AOA officers and CDC officials make plans for more collaboration

March 7, 2016
Contact lens hygiene, diabetes top discussions during recent visit to CDC headquarters.

Common ground. That's what AOA's officers found with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a recent visit focused on the nation's eye health and vision care.

The face-to-face Feb. 25 meeting was a first between AOA's officers and the CDC, though staff of both organizations have worked together on projects, AOA President Steven A. Loomis, O.D., says.

"Both CDC and AOA officials were eager to make it happen again," Dr. Loomis says. "That was obviously positive. We're going to try and meet on an annual basis."

Michael Beach, Ph.D., associate director for healthy water at the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), agrees. "It was a really great opportunity for sharing ideas and we look forward to more collaboration with AOA," says Beach, who attended the meeting. "We were very excited after the meeting about the potential for collaboration."

Included in the discussion was AOA MORE (Measures and Outcomes Registry for Eyecare), powered by Prometheus Research, as well as the role of AOA and its member doctors of optometry in treating glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, and educating the public on eye diseases from Acanthamoeba keratitis to the Zika virus' conjunctivitis.

Both organizations have much to work on—together.

"My impression is that AOA and CDC have several areas of common interest, such as contact lens hygiene and diabetes," AOA Secretary-Treasurer Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., says.

All hands on deck

"It's very much a two-way relationship," says AOA Vice President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D. "As providers, we can assist them in their efforts in both education of the public and, in particular, surveillance. They certainly need our input to make sure that information they are putting out is appropriate. The health care system of today never needed optometry so much. We need all hands on deck to see if we can tackle some of these problems and get people quality care at reasonable costs."

AOA's delegation included Drs. Loomis, Quinn and Pierce, as well as President-elect Andrea P. Thau, O.D., and Executive Director Jon Hymes.

The CDC officials represented two branches:

  • The Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch in the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the NCEZID. They included epidemiologists Beach, Sarah Collier, Jonathan Yoder and medical officer Dr. Jennifer Cope.
  • The Vision Health Initiative in the Division of Diabetes Translation at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Office of Noncommunicable Diseases, Injury and Environmental Health. The CDC's Vision Health Initiative, under the diabetes translation division, promotes vision health and quality of life for the public. Attending the meeting was epidemiologist Jinan Saaddine and CDC fellow Swathi Sekar.

Mutual interest, mutual intent

Opportunities for collaboration topped their conversations.

"I think it was a good opportunity to discuss things of mutual interest," Dr. Loomis says. "What opened the door to our meeting was our mutual interest regarding the public's awareness of proper care of contact lenses. The CDC has a lot of interest in that and rightly so."

At the meeting, AOA pledged its continued support for the CDC's Contact Lens Health Week. AOA will once again be an official CDC partner for the promotion set for Aug. 22-26.

"The CDC shared their patient education materials with the AOA Executive Committee and requested our assistance in disseminating them through our members," Dr. Thau says. "They were very interested in how our members educate our contact lens patients about appropriate behaviors to ensure safe wear."

AOA shared information on AOA MORE, which CDC officials were particularly interested in as a public health surveillance tool. More than 6,500 active AOA-member doctors have enrolled in the registry. A few years ago, a CDC panel identified action steps and priorities for "strengthening national and state surveillance systems" in eye and vision care to help gather data and, ultimately, to develop interventions for patients.

"We discussed in detail the potential of the AOA MORE registry to assist the CDC and they were very excited," Dr. Quinn says. "It turns out they love data and the thought of having access to our aggregate data would be very helpful. We haven't worked out the details yet, but I think there is a lot we can assist them with."

Says Dr. Thau: "As America's primary eye care doctors, doctors of optometry are uniquely positioned to help preserve, protect, enhance and rehabilitate our patients' vision. The AOA stands ready to assist the CDC in order to help all Americans."

Dr. Loomis wanted to impress upon on them the role of optometry in the primary care of patients. He shared with them the role doctors of optometry played in 2014 in diagnosing 240,000 patients with diabetes after coming to their offices for a regular eye exam.

That impressed them.

"I think it was a great education for them," says Dr. Loomis, who appreciated the openness by CDC officials to AOA's ideas. "I think they learned things about our profession that they did not know. There are other areas of common interest. They were really talking notes rapidly."

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