‘Change is the new status quo’

February 6, 2024
From advocacy to artificial intelligence, AOA members embrace and engage the curves ahead in 2024 for optometry at annual planning meeting.
2024 AOA Leaders Summit - Volunteers in large room

The AOA Board of Trustees meets with AOA volunteer committees for discussions during the 2024 Leaders Summit, Feb. 1-3 in St. Louis, Mo.

Change is coming rapidly to optometry, says AOA President Ronald L. Benner, O.D., but it’s all about how its leaders and other members choose to encounter it. Embrace and engage it, Dr. Benner said.

That was just one of the themes emerging from the 2024 Leaders Summit. Held in St. Louis, Missouri, Feb. 1-3, the summit annually brings together hundreds of AOA and American Optometric Student Association volunteer doctors of optometry, paraoptometrics and students in workgroups to plan and plot strategies for the AOA’s priorities. Over 250 volunteers attended the meeting.

“Change is the new status quo,” said Dr. Benner, who added, “We always want to ensure we have a central role in the health care field. We always want to make sure we’re expanding our role in that field.”

Quick takeaways from the summit

  • Children’s vision remains a high priority for the AOA, says AOA Vice President Jacquie M. Bowen, O.D. In June, at Optometry’s Meeting® in Washington, D.C., the AOA announced a nationwide multi-year pediatric eye health mobilization “to ensure all children have access to high-quality, comprehensive eye care.” The AOA continues to work toward that goal. Since June, the AOA has engaged relevant stakeholders such as the World Council of Optometry, Prevent Blindness and MyEyeDr. They’ve identified barriers to care (such as no follow-ups after failed vision screenings and education of parents) and collected recommendations from stakeholders for policy updates/reforms (such as vision screening accountability at the county level and mandatory eye exams).
  • A discussion was held on the future of eye care and AI and potential changes it will bring to the profession and patient care, with panelists Tareq Nabhan, O.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Adam Parker, O.D., who shared their passion for artificial intelligence (AI). Drs. Nabhan and Parker were asked, among other things, how doctors of optometry should be preparing for AI? “Get a ChatGPT account,” said Dr. Parker, who has used his account to craft social media posts and websites on glaucoma and AMD, as well as an abstract image of the eye to hang in his office and a patient letter. “By using it, you educate yourself about what it can do and what it can’t do, at least for now.” Dr. Nabhan echoed these comments and spoke on how it’s important to prepare students for a future with AI. “A culture change is required,” he said.

Two AI-related courses are being offered at Optometry’s Meeting® June 19-22 in Nashville, Tennessee:

  • AI: The Next Frontier, June 20, 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Music City Center
  • The Future of Eyecare: Harnessing the Power of Artificial Intelligence (AI), June 21, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Music City Center

Take advantage of early-bird registration rates through Sunday, March 31, to receive the lowest pricing for Optometry's Meeting, Read more about courses at Optometry’s Meeting.

AOA members embrace change, challenges ahead

Keynote speaker Jia Jiang engaged the meeting’s participants on staying on course amid obstacles and even rejection.

Speaking of change, at the summit, Dr. Benner enumerated a list of challenges for optometry. Inflation has increased the costs of operating a practice and staffing challenges have persisted. The regulatory burden on practices has risen, while the dynamics and complexities of delivering patient care have expanded.

Further, Dr. Benner noted, optometry contends with misinformation from sources aiming to undermine the profession or prevent doctors of optometry from practicing at the highest level of their licensure, thereby limiting access to patients. This includes the resurgence of not-a-doctor bills in states and the AOA’s advocacy to expand optometry’s role, based on optometrists’ training and education, under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) proposed changes to its national standards of practice.

AOA: Won’t take ‘no’ for an answer

The AOA’s advocates are responding with their own calls for change. The AOA and affiliates have:

  • Activated a seven-pronged plan to confront vision and health plans’ reimbursement and coverage fairness. “This has been a big battle for us,” Dr. Benner said.
  • Made consumer alliances with like-minded, pro-patient groups, such as Patients Rising.
  • Fought against not-a-doctor bill attacks and fought for doctors’ authority in the development of the VA’s national practice standards. The AOA’s advocacy on vision benefit managers has led to Congressional inquiries. “I think our meetings are having some effect,” Dr. Benner observed.
  • Supported modernization of state practice acts. “I believe right now we have seven states that have active laser bills,” Dr. Benner said.
  • Driven awareness and advocacy of optometry to policymakers and patients. A recently released study by the AOA and Deloitte Economics Institute on “The impact of unmanaged excessive screen time in the United States” estimates that symptoms associated with the excess came to $151 billion in health system, productivity and wellbeing costs in 2023.
  • Took direct action through doctor complaints against plan-imposed barriers to patient care.

Moving forward successfully will require optometry working together, Dr. Benner said.

“We can't stop change, nor do we want change to stop,” he said. “We just have to make sure that change continues and advances in a method that supports our doctors and grows the profession.”

The AOA acknowledges and thanks its industry supporters for this event, including Johnson & Johnson, Alcon, CooperVision, the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety, Lumenis and DryEye Rescue.

Key resource

Experiencing difficulties with a health or vision plan? Report these challenges to the AOA Third Party Center at  stopplanabuses@aoa.org.

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