Foundation of the AAO advancing eye care in U.S. and abroad
The FAAO runs a national program to help patients receive eye care and an international program that allows physicians to volunteer their services.
The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology provides flexible opportunities for ophthalmologists to volunteer their services in the United States or outside the country.
The Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (FAAO) runs EyeCare America, a national program with a waiver from Medicare that allows doctors to waive co-payments and deductibles, said Brad A. Wong, executive director of the FAAO. The foundation also administers the EyeCare Volunteer Registry, a program that matches physicians who want to volunteer their services with international nongovernmental organizations in need of help.
Since it was launched in 1985, the FAAO has helped more than 800,000 people, with more than 500,000 receiving a direct service from the foundation, Mr. Wong said in a telephone interview with Ocular Surgery News. The foundation was established in 1980 and was originally designed to support the academy’s educational mission, he said.
Since that time, the foundation has expanded to include the international and domestic volunteer programs. The foundation also distributes educational materials to training programs in developing countries for free, Mr. Wong said.
“I’d summarize the foundation’s work as supporting ophthalmic education worldwide,” he said. “It also is advancing ophthalmic education worldwide through the academy and providing ophthalmologists in the U.S. an opportunity to give back and to do that through EyeCare America, where they see patients at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient. We also coordinate with them to volunteer overseas.”
The EyeCare Volunteer Registry program is the foundation’s international mission branch. It has matched physicians with international volunteer programs in countries including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Rwanda and Nicaragua, Mr. Wong said. The program allows American doctors to volunteer for several hours in their own offices in a consulting role or to travel to a developing country for a week up to 6 months offering medical services directly to patients.
Physicians can visit the program’s Web site, www.eyecarevolunteer.org, and enter their areas of interest and where they want to volunteer overseas, Mr. Wong said. The service works as an automatic matching system. Doctors receive a list of opportunities and organizations where they can volunteer internationally, and then they work out a plan with the organizations they will work with. It is a simple year-round matching service, so doctors can volunteer at any time and any place, Mr. Wong said.
Physicians select how long they will serve, an aspect unique to the program, he said. They can also volunteer as consultants to physicians in developing nations, giving advice and having discussions via e-mail and the Internet on eye diseases and cases.
“Traditionally, doctors would go for anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to a 6-month stay, so they can select that,” Mr. Wong said. “This past year, we introduced a new opportunity form, where they can volunteer from their office here in the states through a telemedicine program.”
Mr. Wong said the foundation provides an excellent chance for doctors to give back to the community through assisting others.
“I think what it offers doctors is a very challenging environment for medicine and physicians,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to get back to the original reason why they got into medicine, which was to help the patient and to help others in society. It’s a nice, easy way for them to help others and get back to some of the roots of medicine.”
The EyeCare America program was developed several years before the international service began, according to B. Thomas Hutchinson, MD, chairman of the FAAO.
In 1983, FAAO officials, including Dr. Hutchinson and the Academy membership, established the program to offer access to eye care for U.S. citizens over 65 years of age who have not seen an ophthalmologist in at least 3 years. Patients can call a toll-free telephone number (800-222-EYES) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they will be referred to the closest physician in their area. In 1986, the pilot program was expanded from three states to across the country.
Since then, EyeCare America has become the largest public service program in American medicine, Dr. Hutchinson said in a telephone interview with OSN. The program now has 7,500 ophthalmologists participating — approximately half of the eligible ophthalmologists in the United States. In addition, the original project was expanded from a senior program to include information and referral programs for diabetes and glaucoma; in addition, there are informational programs for macular degeneration and pediatrics.
Dr. Hutchinson called the response to the program “extraordinary,” from not only ophthalmologists and the ophthalmic industry, but also the public.
“People have told us, ‘I couldn’t afford to have my eyes cared for and God bless the [physician]. He was terrific, and I can see again,’” Dr. Hutchinson said. “People have written to us about being able to read their Bible again or noting, ‘My husband has diabetes and bad eye disease, and we’re living on Social Security, and we don’t have a place to go for eye care or know where to go.’ It is true that many don’t know where to go for their eyes. They can be in the country or even in New York City and still have unmet eye care needs.”
After a patient calls the hotline, a letter is sent to the closest doctor with the patient’s name and basic information. A letter is also sent to the patient with the doctor’s name. Patients usually receive an initial eye examination and are then given up to a year’s worth of eye care at no out-of-pocket expense. Under a special ruling by the Office of Inspector General for this program only, balance billing is waived and patients receive no bill, Dr. Hutchinson said.
“Ophthalmologists in general are very supportive of these programs, as most physicians are, and this gives them a program that is ready-made,” Dr. Hutchinson said. “All they have to do is sign up, educate their staff and we do the paperwork to connect the doctor and the patient.”
For more information:
- B. Thomas Hutchinson, MD, can be reached at Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston, 50 Staniford St., Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114; 617-367-4800; e-mail: email@example.com.
- Brad A. Wong can be reached at 655 Beach St., San Francisco, CA 94109-1336; 415-447-0386; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Erin L. Boyle is an OSN Staff Writer who covers all aspects of ophthalmology.