Excerpted from page 16 of the May/June 2022 edition of AOA Focus.
By the time members ascend to the very top leadership roles of the AOA, typically after nearly a decade on the Board of Trustees, they have been steeped in optometry—not only infused by decades of practice experience but also seasoned by the AOA’s dogged commitment to advocacy.
And year after year, that baton is passed.
In a Q&A with AOA Focus, current AOA President Robert C. Layman, O.D., and President-elect James P. DeVleming, O.D., reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead for the association and the profession ahead of the profession's premier annual event, the 125th Annual AOA Congress & 54th Annual AOSA Conference: Optometry's Meeting®.
What do you think are the AOA’s/profession’s immediate challenges?
Dr. Layman: The most pressing challenges are assuring practice success in the face of high inflation; workforce shortages; additional disinfection/safety protocols; stagnant vision plan reimbursements; online competition; and the increased administrative burden of government regulations such as the signed contact lens prescription acknowledgement and good faith estimates required by the No Surprises Act. Three illogical Medicare physician fee reductions are scheduled over the first six months of 2022, while Congress rewards the Medicare Advantage plans a 7.98% fee increase for 2022—which appears blatantly unfair. It reinforces the critical need for a strong AOA to help health policy decision-makers understand and respect our vital contribution to the nation’s health.
Dr. DeVleming: The AOA and the profession’s immediate challenge is to make sure we, our staff and our patients deliver/receive needed ocular care safely and effectively while continuing to deal with the ramifications of COVID-19. Moving forward, the profession must continue to grow and expand the care we deliver. America’s population is aging, meaning our patients will need more care—whether dealing with such health issues as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataract co-management or diabetic issues as well as all the visual changes that come with birthdays. Our profession is at the forefront in providing those services and we, as the AOA, need to make sure member doctors are educated, trained and confident in their skill set to deliver these services at the highest-quality levels our patients deserve.
What opportunities are before the AOA and the profession?
Dr. Layman: I see our profession’s biggest opportunity as the ability to provide contemporary optometry services by dedicated and caring doctors to every citizen. Our wide, geographic distribution in over 10,000 communities puts us on the front lines of primary eye and vision care while the number of eye surgeons is stagnant and the demand for services is ever-increasing. The VA system has recognized our role, rescinding a ban on laser procedures by doctors of optometry and utilizing them at their highest level of scope of practice under its new national practice standards. New technology that helps us more effectively manage chronic conditions such as dry eye, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and progressive myopia will certainly help the growth of the profession. Our strong AOA presence in Washington, D.C., helped us act in the name of patient safety by providing the evidence that led the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice to sanction and fine Hubble Contacts. Averting a 10% Medicare fee reduction, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2022, was a highlight of our federal advocacy program, as was inclusion in COVID-19 relief funds that netted the profession $2.1 billion.
Dr. DeVleming: Our opportunities are grand! We are on the front of the line when it comes to delivering ocular and visual care. All we need to do is reach out and grab our future and then show the world how great we are when it comes to anything eye related. We have the opportunity to expand our membership base by reaching out to and including as members those underrepresented provider groups, which in turn will help all citizens receive the care they need and want. We have the opportunity to mentor our younger family by working more closely with schools of optometry, helping to make sure new graduates are ready for the world they are entering and realizing what a strong partner the AOA is for them. And finally, we can continue to educate elected officials and regulators at the federal and state levels about optometry and how we are an integral part of the health care world.
How does the AOA’s work help doctors and patients?
Dr. Layman: 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 as we all face the headwinds mentioned. 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. Your AOA staff is incredibly dedicated and talented. Their commitment to the profession is amazing and must be recognized as a secret superpower that is unmatched in our ecosystem.
Dr. DeVleming: The AOA’s work for members is hugely important in helping doctors, which then helps our patients. AOA advocacy is there to make sure optometry stays strong, grows and weeds out the bad actors who are trying to put profit above patient care. AOA education through EyeLearn, evidenced-based optometry, and coding and billing are there to make sure doctors have the knowledge they need to deliver high-quality care and be reimbursed properly for those services. AOA communications through Eye Deserve More and other campaigns are there to educate the public about who doctors of optometry are and what we do, helping patients make more informed choices about their ocular care. The AOA’s work will continue to help us all be better and we, in turn, must help AOA be stronger by becoming and staying members through our entire careers.
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The profession’s premier meeting ended Saturday in Chicago after four days of contemporary education, impactful networking, professional leadership, and all-around fun. See what you missed.