Historic and high-energy meeting of optometry’s minds

June 29, 2023
Thousands of doctors of optometry and optometric students traveled to Washington, D.C., June 21-24, for the premier gathering of the profession—Optometry’s Meeting® 2023. They left the nation’s capital knowing more about caring for their patients, advocating for their practices and making a difference in the profession.
Opening night at Optometry's Meeting® 2023

Few happenings can match Optometry’s Meeting® for its size, inspiration and solidarity. The high-energy and historic 2023 version will go down in the books as indelible—from the electric atmosphere for advocacy to top-notch clinical education to the launch of the AOA’s eye-friendly mobile game, Blink Land.

Attendance+

By the numbers, Optometry’s Meeting attracted thousands to Washington, D.C., for the profession’s premier event. The high-energy gathering, across four days, folded in optometry’s vision, its pro-optometry doctors and students, and its continuing education on clinical care. In welcoming attendees June 21, AOA President Ronald L. Benner, O.D., referred to the meeting as a “movement.”

“We have more than 5,000 of our best doctors, students, staff and industry partners here, actively engaged in optometry!” Dr. Benner said. “All here with one united goal: to voice our collective vision for the future of eye health and vision care to our legislators and America at large. And have no doubt that we are being heard.”

Through AOA+ alone, about 2,400 students, young doctors and optometric educators were on hand. The Eye Care Square exhibit hall was abuzz with students and recent graduates for the AOAExcel® Career Center Fair & Residency Summit. At an Advocacy 101 workshop, students heard about the importance of advocacy to their future practice—it’s better to be at the table than on the menu, according to Joe Ellis, O.D., past AOA-PAC chair. Said Jeni Kohn, O.D., AOA-PAC chair, “We have fought over and over again to have our seat at the table and now that we have that spot, we can’t ever let up. Or we could end up on the menu, right?”

They showed up for student-recommended continuing education, were mentored by doctors of optometry at AOA+ Leadership Link sessions and supported their schools at the AOSA Optometry Student Bowl™ XXXII powered by EssilorLuxottica. Zachary Ney, of the University of Houston College of Optometry, hoisted the trophy at the end.

Addressing the AOA House of Delegates, Emily Benson, president of the 7,000-member-strong American Optometric Student Association (AOSA), said students were eager to take back to school what they had learned. “Students are enthusiastic, willing and ready to serve our patients and our profession,” she said.

Students weren’t the only ones embracing learning. A week after the opening of Optometry’s Meeting, more than 10,100 continuing education credits had been claimed by doctors and students—or about 11 credits per attendee. (How to claim your credits.)

Influence: Leveraging partnerships

Evidence of the AOA’s growing influence? Appearances and acknowledgements at the AOA’s House of Delegates by some of the nation’s top health care advocates, addressing doctors of optometry, paraoptometrics and optometric students. They included:

  • U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Angela Ramirez on behalf of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra.
  • ERISA Special Committee Chair Randall Markarian, D.M.D., of the American Dental Association (ADA).
  • Terry Wilcox, co-founder and executive director of Patients Rising.

Rep. Carter, Secretary Becerra, the ADA and Wilcox received 2023 AOA Health Care Leadership Awards, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., Sen. John Boozman, O.D., R-Ark., Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Wyo.  Sens. Manchin and Tester received their awards on Capitol Hill.

“It is a privilege to be acknowledged by an organization that has worked to create a healthier country by ensuring access to essential vision and eye care services for the American people,” Sen. Sanders wrote to the AOA. “I appreciate your unwavering commitment to serving the needs of millions of Americans and your support of the optometry workforce during an especially difficult past few years.

“The dedication of the AOA and its members to advancing optometric education and supporting optometry students is important work,” he said. “By nurturing the next generation of optometrists, you are paving the way for a future where eye care is accessible to all,” he added. “With your help, I am working to guarantee eye care in Medicare coverage so we can begin treating it like the basic human right that it is. We must create a just, inclusive and affordable health care system, and I am grateful to know that this resonates with your members.”

The AOA’s collaborations underscore the growing number of partnerships the AOA is extending and leveraging. For instance, Rep. Carter recently reintroduced the bipartisan Dental and Optometric Care Act (DOC Access Act) ( H.R.1385) in the House. Further the ADA is the AOA’s partner in pushing for the legislation’s passage.

“My real goal is collaboration,” Dr. Markarian told the AOA’s House of Delegates.

Patients Rising, a leading patient advocacy organization, is supporting the DOC Access Act and has helped issue a call for Congress to put a stop to vision benefit manager abuses that undermine the practice of optometry.

Advocacy: Setting the agenda

Only blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, doctors and students were making the rounds of lawmakers’ offices. More than 400 visits to The Hill and around Washington D.C., with lawmakers and their top policy staff were scheduled in all. More than 650 attendees registered for AOA on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers also visited with students at an AOA+ Advocacy Workshop including Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Ore., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and former Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla.

In his remarks, AOA Executive Director Jon Hymes made his case for the AOA being well-prepared to meet head-on the headwinds facing the profession. The AOA’s finances are rock solid. Its leadership is battle-tested, bold and visionary. The affiliate family is united, working on behalf of members and the public. The value of a degree in optometry has risen. Membership is stable and the envy, post-COVID, of other associations.

“Our partnerships are further extending our reach,” Hymes said. “Our priorities are moving forward. Our support is growing. Our influence is increasing. Optometry is advancing. State optometric associations are setting the legislative agenda across the country in the profession’s latest era of historic scope expansion.”

The AOA and its affiliates have celebrated historic gains—scope expansion and recent protections against vision plan abuses in Texas and Nevada. But the AOA is not stopping there.

Dr. Benner laid out the AOA’s priorities: calling out vision plans, promoting contemporary eye care; supporting optometry’s full recognition as independent licensed providers; growing membership and membership for all; leading the way on education; looking at optometric practice beyond today; expanding its national influence; and leading a meaningful mobilization of eye health and vision care access for children through a public/private/health care industry partnership.

“…we have a direction and a destination—full recognition, full participation and a fair field of opportunity as part of the essential health care community. The work you see being done now, by this group, by this organization, is only the contrails of where we are going.”

Making news: Mobilization for children’s eye care

At the outset of Optometry’s Meeting, Dr. Benner called for a national pediatric eye and health vision mobilization. Conditions such as myopia (nearsightedness) can impact a child’s vision, literacy and perceptual skills. The AOA will lead a consortium of public and private partners including doctors, industry representatives, like-minded associations, parents, teachers and policymakers. Among its goals:

  • Advocating on the federal level for policies and programs that ensure children get the eye care they need and deserve.
  • Assimilating the evidence and creating a playbook to help expand federal- and state-level advocacy and guide policy decisions.
  • Addressing access to care, particularly for the underserved.
  • Driving public awareness to help educate stakeholders and the public about children’s eye health and vision care and access to it.

“Today’s children are truly the foundation for our nation’s future,” Dr. Benner said. “They will be the ones who harness and master AI, reach new planets and in their spare time tackle the issues in our environment, just to name a few.

“Yet, there is a serious chasm in our system that can impact their future—accessing essential, comprehensive and preventive eye health and vision care,” he said.

Learning: Blink Land

Launched June 15, the single-player mobile game Blink Land teaches players about better screen time habits, how to ease common symptoms of digital eyestrain and the importance of in-person care with an AOA doctor of optometry. The hero character is called Blink.

Blink Land was developed as part of Eye Deserve More, the AOA’s national public awareness campaign, now in its third year, that takes a stand that every American deserves in-person, comprehensive eye care from a doctor of optometry as part of their eye health and overall well-being. It was developed by Elaine Gómez-Sanchez and Playcrafting, a member of the Screen Time Alliance, a partnership between the AOA and gaming industry partners that provides gamers eye health tips right where they are—within a game.

Over 227 million Americans play video games, and the AOA’s 2022 Gamer Survey results revealed that the average gamer has experienced various eye-related symptoms from gaming, including eyestrain, headaches, dry eyes and blurred vision. Prolonged screen time also can increase your risk of developing eye infections due to decreased blink rate while viewing screens.

Download Blink Land on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store
Find additional children’s eye health and vision care resources.

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