Saving vision is what we do
As doctors of optometry know full well, optometry never takes a holiday. We work year-round to provide eye care and vision health in more than 10,000 communities across the U.S. In a third of those communities, we are the only eye doctor. We're also just around the corner—90% of the nation lives within a 14-minute drive of an office of a doctor of optometry, a 2016 study reported. We are perfectly positioned to provide a critical corridor for patients needing access to the nation's health care system.
Still, each March during Save Your Vision Month (SYVM), we amp up our message to the public: Regular, in-person, comprehensive eye examinations, performed by doctors of optometry, are essential to your health. It's a message that never gets old, even after more than 90 years of the observance we founded.
More than ever, though, this message is worth repeating, very loudly and very unambiguously. By 2030, the last baby boomer will turn 65 years old. As the boomers have grown older, their demand for eye care has grown—and not just for refractive care. There is a greater demand for medical eye care, and doctors of optometry are poised to meet that need, provided we are properly trained and have expanded our scope of practice across the country to allow us to do much of what our patients need, and quite frankly, expect us to do.
So what does this mean for doctors of optometry? First, practice at the highest level of scope allowed under your state's laws. Our patients deserve it; we've earned their trust to provide that care. According to the AOA's American Eye-Q® survey, 94% of Americans trust their doctors of optometry to deliver accurate and reliable information about their eye health to them. So, we must continue to address refractive errors and binocular vision disorders, but we must also take care of patients with allergies, dry eye, glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetes. We must be willing to co-manage refractive and cataract surgery cases. Learn how to fit scleral lenses. Purchase technology that will take our practices to the next level in-patient care.
Second, even as we rightfully celebrate hard-fought regulatory and legislative victories due to AOA's advocacy efforts, we must continue fighting for the right to serve our patients at even greater levels. We need scope-of-practice laws that grant state boards of optometry greater authority. This would allow us to embrace new technologies without constantly modifying state law every time technology outpaces our optometry practice acts.
As it stands today, only the states of Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky allow for doctors of optometry to perform some laser surgical procedures. Through the Future Practice Initiative announced last summer, the AOA, the State Government Relations Center and affiliates are working toward the goal of raising the scope of practice in all states. After all, patients are entitled to the best care no matter where they live.
In a virtual kick-off, the AOA launches Leadership Institute with 130 doctors of optometry from across the country. A project of the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the Institute is a yearlong program designed to grow and support the next generation of leaders in the profession.
At the 2021 Leaders Summit, AOA-member volunteers set priorities for the year and launched new initiatives to lead the profession forward.