America is aging, and doctors of optometry's' roles as primary eye care providers for this expanding population have taken on new importance.
Ahead of Grandparents Day this September 13, doctors of optometry can begin to prepare to treat an influx of elderly patients. As the population ages, patients are at an increased risk for age-related eye diseases, which have the potential to cause vision impairment. Timely and appropriate referral to low-vision rehabilitation services can help patients maximize their remaining vision, allowing them to perform activities of daily living and have improved quality of life.
In addition to ensuring healthy vision for these patients, it's up to doctors of optometry to provide access to care in institutions, curate information from the Internet, facilitate vision rehabilitation, keep family members involved and address policy through legislation.
"As many of us are well aware, the baby boomer generation is exploding and our average age continues to get older and older," says Eric Baas, O.D., chief of the Alfred and Sarah Rosenbloom Center on Vision and Aging at the Illinois College of Optometry.
What used to be a small subset of patients is quickly becoming the primary subset of patients, Dr. Baas observes. A 2014 report from the Pew Research Center estimates that the Medicare-age population will, for the first time, surpass those 15 and younger by 2030. Couple those statistics with the National Eye Care Workforce Study—organized by the AOA and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry—which cites the growth of the aging U.S. population as a key factor in the demand for optometric services through 2025.
As the AOA continues to advocate for improved Medicare coverage of eye exams and other eye care needs, doctors of optometry in the field are employing various strategies to care for a population that often deals with a myriad of complex conditions. In many cases, these patients may struggle to communicate their needs or have physical limitations. Caring for this population requires patience, Dr. Baas says.
"You need to understand that they may have hearing deficits or mobility issues, and there is sometimes cognitive decline. You need to have empathy and patience to work effectively with this population and understand what these patients are going through."
The AOA will use the time to evaluate its collection efforts and create a registry for the future that is most useful to improving eye health and vision care. The AOA launched the registry in 2015.
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Under new rules for the 21st Century Cures Act, doctors of optometry will need to prepare for changes going into effect April 5. Doctors should check in with their health IT vendor in order to make sure they meet the new requirements.