Inside the AOA Strategic Plan

September 8, 2022
The AOA Strategic Plan provides a lens through which all actions taken by the organization can be viewed, and the 11 members of the AOA Board of Trustees are charged with bringing that plan to life.
American Optometric Association Board of Trustees

Photography by Steve Craft.

Excerpted from page 22 of the July/Aug 2022 edition of AOA Focus.

There is rhyme to the AOA’s rhythm.

Its rhythm? The steady drumbeat of its efforts, whether advocating, advancing, educating, collaborating, providing or leading. Its pulse is 24/7/365.

The rhyme or reason driving that rhythm: the AOA Strategic Plan, updated in 2021 and carried out by the AOA Board of Trustees.

The plan identifies the AOA’s core purpose: Advocate for the profession and serve doctors of optometry in meeting the health and vision care needs of the public. It is through this lens that the AOA’s actions are framed.

The goal of the AOA’s leadership team is to continue to expand the high-quality care doctors of optometry provide to their patients. The AOA strives to ensure that its members have what they need to perform contemporary optometry; to make sure they have access to patients, the education they need to provide that care, that regulatory changes are in optometry’s favor and not limiting, and that changes in the states are positive.

AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., says, “The work of the AOA helps doctors of optometry provide advanced, contemporary eye care and vision services to meet an ever-greater need in their communities. The AOA education resources, combined with tools for practice success through AOAExcel®, are invaluable. The AOA can most effectively tell the story of the value of our services to the public and health care decision-makers. Our advocacy programs have advanced the scope of practice and recognized the remarkable clinical skill of our caring practitioners. The AOA has protected patients from unscrupulous online purveyors of materials and services that pose a threat to their health.”

Members of the AOA board share with AOA Focus how they carry out the AOA’s mission.

Achieving successful implementation of Advocacy Foundational Principles

The AOA fights above its weight class when it comes to advocacy. That advocacy is grounded in its Advocacy Foundational Principles, also updated by the Board of Trustees in 2021 and subject to annual review. The principles reflect what members consistently say: Advocacy—on federal and state levels, for doctors of optometry, their patients and optometry students—is “the highest organizational priority.”

“Because we are a state-by-state, legislated profession, this goal is paramount to preserve and advance optometry,” Trustee Belinda R. Starkey, O.D., says. “While serving in leadership in Arkansas, I saw firsthand how beneficial the AOA Future Practice Initiative can be for states pursuing scope expansion. I have seen our profession come together to stand up for what is right. We must continue to unify our efforts and our message to increase access to care for patients, improve payment parity, and update laws to allow doctors of optometry to practice at their highest level of education and training. Advocacy is our driving force for progress.”

Launched in 2018, the AOA Future Practice Initiative is a close, operational partnership with affiliates that identifies and eliminates outdated barriers and fully recognizes contemporary optometric practice. The initiative leverages the advocacy strength and communications tools of the AOA to boost affiliates’ efforts and help produce legislative wins.

Updating scope of practice is essential for the health of patients and the health of the profession, says Trustee Paul M. Barney, O.D.

“In most U.S. states, optometric scope of practice and the use of telehealth are determined by their state legislatures. With the development of new ophthalmic pharmaceutical agents, and advances in technology and optometric education, scope of practice statutes and statutes regarding how telehealth is used need to be updated periodically to keep up with these advances. Without updated statutes, doctors of optometry are not allowed to practice to the fullest level of their education, and patients are then denied access to the best quality of care.”

Advocacy objectives:

  • Pass federal legislation to include the Dental and Optometric Care Access Act (S. 1793 and H.R. 3461) and robocall bills.
  • Advance single standard of quality of care whether in person or virtual (through recognized channel of communication with patient).
  • Advance contemporary scope of practice for doctors in 30 states.
  • Achieve integration of the eye exam as an essential benefit in the majority of health care (medical) plans.

Membership growth

Among factors shaping the board’s view on membership growth is a predicted shortage of ophthalmologists by 2025, a decline in solo practice models and an aging U.S. population.

“Membership is the foundation and heart of the AOA,” Trustee Curtis A. Ono, O.D., says. “As a volunteer-based organization, AOA relies on the dedication and passion of its members to protect and move our profession forward through work at the local, regional and national levels. Our goal of reaching a market share of 60% nationally will enable us to accomplish even more by providing a larger volunteer pool with a diversity of experience, stronger financial footing and greater collective influence on our profession. Affiliates are integral to the success of our profession at the grassroots level with close contact to members and prospective members.”

Trustee Marrie S. Read, O.D., M.B.A., adds, “We need to emphasize relevance and provide opportunities for our current affiliates and members. If our members are the heart and soul of our organization, our affiliates are the bones. Affiliates are essential partners in achieving our local, regional and national priorities. The AOA is committed to enhancing membership support to affiliates to meet our mission and vision for our profession as a whole. Additionally, providing leadership development programs to assist in shaping our future leaders and leveraging these leaders to move our profession forward are critical pieces in the success of our affiliates and the AOA.”

“AOA will continue to provide resources to affiliates through a national dashboard with prospective member contact information, online join process on aoa.org, membership survey results, membership-focused webinars and workshops, and customizable marketing materials,” Dr. Ono says. “By partnering together, we can make our membership message louder for prospective members to hear. Students today are doctors tomorrow. It is important to share early in their optometric career the benefits of membership and ways AOA influences the profession. When students realize the importance of AOA, they will not think twice about active membership after graduation. To make the transition easier, student members automatically become active members upon graduation and benefit with reduced dues for the first five years after graduation.”

Membership objectives:

  • Enhance membership support to affiliates.
  • Increase membership transition from student to regular member.
  • Improve faculty support for membership.
  • Increase all levels of member engagement.
  • Increase value and effectiveness of leadership development programs.

The AOA is the recognized expert in eye and vision care

Doctors of optometry practice in 2,443 or 78% of U.S. counties or county equivalents, and opportunities exist to elevate public awareness about the value of a lifetime of comprehensive eye and vision care.

“The goal of the AOA and our members being recognized as ‘the experts’ in eye and vision care is paramount to our objectives as an association and a profession,” Trustee Terri A. Gossard, O.D., M.S., says. “People trust experts. They come to experts with questions, expecting answers that are reliable and based in both fact and extensive experience. Experts are more likely to be believed and attract smart, motivated people to work alongside them. Other health care professionals, legislators, regulators, industry leaders and, most importantly, our patients benefit from our perspectives and insights when doctors of optometry are recognized for their singular expertise.”

Adds Trustee Teri K. Geist, O.D.: “It is critical to make sure we have a public awareness campaign that tells our story. Educating and informing the public about how we care for our patients through comprehensive, contemporary eye care is essential in spreading our message. Communicating our story through patient experiences and outcomes has been an extremely powerful tool to elevate optometry in the public’s eye. We want our expertise to be showcased and to let people recognize and understand the level of care given to our patients every day.”

That campaign is Eye Deserve More, launched in 2021 with a mission to encourage every American to seek in-person, comprehensive care from an AOA doctor of optometry.

“Almost everyone knows an optometrist is an eye doctor and that we treat vision problems with glasses and contact lenses,” Secretary-Treasurer Jacquie M. Bowen, O.D., says. “But almost every doctor of optometry has had to explain that we also are primary health care providers with abilities to diagnose and treat a plethora of conditions. Our members count on the AOA to message on a national level why everyone needs a lifelong relationship with a doctor of optometry, and as we advocate for access to our care, the clarity of that message becomes increasingly important. For our patients, as they gain a better understanding of the care we provide, they are more likely to seek us out and receive proper and efficient care.”

Dr. Gossard adds, “To be recognized as experts in our field, the AOA feels it is critical to amplify all the complementary initiatives and objectives of other optometric organizations. As such, we have been collaborating with leaders from the American Academy of Optometry, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, the National Optometric Association, the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry, and the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. Increasing the scope and breadth of the AOA’s interprofessional relationships, including other health care provider organizations and national health and research organizations, also is key to increase awareness of optometric expertise and the services we provide.”

Says Dr. Bowen: “The AOA can help members cut through the red tape to make these other professionals aware of our role and cooperation in our mutual patients’ lives.”

Public awareness objectives:

  • Improve the public awareness of the scope of optometric care.
  • Elevate the public’s perception of optometry.
  • Increase the quantity and quality of media coverage on the profession.
  • Improve interprofessional relationships.
  • Enhance intraprofessional relationships.

Integrating new technologies that advance optometry

Technology, good and bad, continues to shape the profession, whether it’s telehealth, online vision screening or chairside innovations, never mind the “influencers” shaping public awareness about the profession on social media, and the public’s general desire for convenience.

“It’s vitally important that doctors of optometry vet and incorporate new technologies that advance our profession,” says Vice President Steven T. Reed, O.D. “Keeping abreast of the newest innovations bolsters the critical care that we provide and builds our value in the eyes of the public. New technologies also may allow us to provide more integrated, team-based care. This highlights our value within the health care system as we collaborate in providing holistic care. As the perceived value of optometry increases in the eyes of the public and as key players in coordinated health care, we as a profession and an organization grow stronger in our collective efforts to continue serving our patients well into the future.”

“Optometry has always been quick to adapt new technologies—when that technology advances patient care,” says President-Elect Ronald L. Benner, O.D. “AOA believes that by using the power of our volunteer structure, we can assist our members to keep them from being overwhelmed. The AOA New Technology Committee is charged with assessing the impact these technologies may have in our clinics, and the AOA Education Center is charged with integrating these new technologies into our educational programs. The AOA also has created webinars, white papers, articles and programs to help explain the opportunities, limitations, clinical integration and even proper billing and coding of these new technologies.”

Technology objectives

  • Increase AOA understanding of new technologies relevant to the specialty.
  • Increase member understanding of new technologies and methods for implementation.
  • Increase member understanding of contemporary optometry models and methods for implementation.
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