Optometry and social work

Optometry and social work

Sarah Hinkley, O.D.

Written by Sarah Hinkley, O.D., a member of the AOA’s Vision Rehabilitation Committee, and Johanna Vander Ploeg, social work intern, MSW candidate

There is growing emphasis in health care on the importance of holistic, collaborative care for optimum, patient-centered outcomes. In order to practice as patient-centric and integrated health care providers, optometry must continue to increase relationships among all health care professions. One of the professions that can be a fruitful partner to optometry, especially throughout the vision rehabilitation process, is social work.

Social work practice is defined by the National Association of Social Workers as consisting of "... the professional application of social work values, principles and techniques to one or more of the following ends: helping people obtain tangible services; counseling and psychotherapy with individuals, families and groups; helping communities or groups provide or improve social and health services; and participating in legislative processes." Patients who would benefit from vision rehabilitation also may benefit from the expertise of a social worker. Although this is not an exhaustive list, social workers may assist patients with:

  • Assistance with disability advocacy
  • Resources for loss of a driver's license
  • Resolving transportation needs for medical appointments
  • Follow-through with medical advice
  • Medication management and assistance programs
  • Connection to diabetic resources
  • Food assistance
  • Mental health resources
  • Self-care education
  • School-based interventions
  • Family interventions
  • Situations involving abuse or neglect

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reduced vision among mature adults has been shown to result in social isolation and depression. Early in the vision rehabilitation process, doctors of optometry may consider adding appropriate screening questions to their history intake that may facilitate a discussion with the patient or their caregiver in the exam room. These additional questions and discussions can be useful in identifying potential behavioral or mental health concerns or the need for adjunctive services beyond eye care. In some instances, these barriers may prevent otherwise successful vision rehabilitation. Sample questions may include:

  • In addition to the services you have received today, do you have any other life issues for which you might need some assistance?
  • Are you feeling nervous, stressed, depressed or anxious?
  • Do you have any difficulties that would prevent you from successfully completing your eye treatment plan?
  • Social workers can assist patients in a variety of ways, particularly regarding providing access to resources, such as food, financial assistance and transportation. They also can be helpful in dealing with a wide variety of issues, such as anxiety and depression or family issues. Might you be interested in talking with a social worker?

Additionally, an in-office, PHQ-9 Patient Depression Questionnaire may be another practical way that doctors of optometry can assess severity of any depression and connect patients to a social worker. Doctors may consider employing a social worker or referring a patient to a private, community-based or organizational social worker.

Social work is just one example of another profession that can contribute to the improved well-being of our patients. Doctors of optometry are in a unique position to lead by example through the vision rehabilitation process.

Click here
to learn more about vision rehabilitation and how to manage individuals with low vision and/or brain injury.


Disclaimer: The information contained in this article represents the opinion of the author and not the AOA. These are not clinical practice guidelines, nor has the evidence been peer reviewed.

There are additional aspects to this topic that may not be presented, or considered, based on the specifics of the case.


July 29, 2019

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