Part of the solution

October 23, 2017
Optometry is the answer to National Academies’ vision report.

Excerpted from page 5 of the October 2017 edition of AOA Focus.

Even in this day and age, millions of Americans live with a visual disability. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) 2016 report estimates that 142 million Americans over age 40 experience visual problems (read more on page 30). Yet, what's truly amazing is that between 8.2 and 15.9 million people in the U.S. have a correctable visual disability attributable to uncorrected refractive error. These people and society suffer as they go about their day-to-day lives when a correction is readily available.

The NASEM report delivered a sweeping call to action to improve Americans' eye health and vision care and proposed a public health action framework to address "health equity in the United States." The report put a very real struggle under a public health spotlight, but optometry has been aware of these issues for years. In many cases, AOA was already there in addressing these needs.

It's almost criminal that there are children in our nation living with correctable visual disabilities that affect not only their quality of life, but also their performance in school. There are countless reasons why people may find themselves or their children living with correctable visual disabilities, but I believe chiefly among these are a lack of access to care and education. And for that, the solution is very simple: optometry. Access to care can be improved by making sure all Americans—children and adults—have an eye exam as an essential preventative health benefit included as part of their health insurance. The AOA's advocacy won this important benefit for the pediatric population under the Affordable Care Act, but it's not enough. The benefit should be expanded to include adults and should be a preventative service not subject to co-pays and deductibles.

But we knew that providing access was only the first hurdle. Education also was lacking. Too many patients and parents don't recognize the importance of eye care or mistakenly believe vision screenings are effective or that technology can substitute for quality, in-person care. And as recommended in the NASEM report, the AOA has partnered with industry on the Think About Your Eyes (TAYE) campaign. TAYE is coming off a momentous year, in which the campaign directly drove more than 1.15 million exams and cut the exam cycle from 24 months to 14 months. This is having an impact on access and education, and we need to keep this campaign going and make it stronger.

So, too, you'll see the AOA's commitment to resolving this eye and vision health disparity in the actions taken by our AOA House of Delegates this year. Even with all that we are already doing, the AOA is stepping up to answer the call.

There is a tremendous unmet need, and it's our responsibility to remedy that in this country. It's not enough to just want a solution. We need the profession to be the solution.

Read more about the NASEM report on page 30 of the October 2017 edition of AOA Focus.

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