Optometry's Meeting
Optometry's Meeting
June 20, 2019
6 min read
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Outgoing AOA president prioritizes comprehensive eye exams for 2020

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ST. LOUIS – Alabama practitioner Samuel D. Pierce, OD, closes out his 2019-2020 term as president of the American Optometric Association here at Optometry’s Meeting.

Primary Care Optometry News spoke with Pierce about the association’s accomplishments during his tenure and programs that will continue to be a priority over the next year.

Samuel D. Pierce

PCON: Last year at Optometry’s Meeting you announced the AOA’s 2020 Eye Exam campaign. What has transpired with the campaign over the past year?

Pierce: Since last year, we have been hard at work assembling an initiative that won’t simply mark the year 2020, but make it a year of action that will propel optometry and eye health care into the future. We are seizing the year 2020 to spotlight optometry’s essential and expanding role in health care and to leverage the collective power of AOA doctors and students to build greater public awareness of the importance of in-person, comprehensive eye exams. We will make 2020 the year of the eye exam with AOA family doctors of optometry. Everything AOA does as we head into 2020 will be focused on communicating that message and bringing it to life. Some of the activities include:

  • Arming doctors to build new, patient-focused links with a range of other health professionals through resources to support local doctor-to-doctor communication and information-sharing.
  • Modernizing state practice laws through the AOA Future Practice Initiative, the winning partnership with state associations focused on eliminating outdated barriers to expand patient access, ensuring continuity of patient care and keeping the practice and profession of optometry on the leading edge.
  • Expanding and upgrading the AOA website to provide a navigable resource for doctors and patients, including a more powerful spotlight on AOA doctors through refreshed patient content and a state-of-the-art “Find A Doctor” feature.
  • Amplifying media advocacy efforts to remind Americans of the simple, yet important, step they need to take in 2020: Get an in-person, comprehensive eye exam with an AOA family doctor of optometry. Affiliates and member doctors will have resources to get the word out locally later this year.
  • Mobilizing the profession in examining emerging issues, creating opportunities for discussion and, most importantly, determining the actions we need to take to address the future needs of the profession.
  • Finally, we are encouraging the nation’s visionary employers to pledge to expand understanding and support for eye health and in-person eye exams provided by AOA doctors of optometry. We want all employers to talk to their employees about getting their #2020EyeExam and making it a part of their annual health care routine.
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PCON: Last year, former AOA president Chris Quinn, OD, stated in the House of Delegates that the AOA is working with other optometry organizations on continuing education accreditation, and that a research summit was planned for July 2018. Please discuss any developments in this area.

Pierce: CE accreditation. The AOA recognizes that our member doctors expect and deserve an accrediting body that is independent, representative of the profession’s major organizations and financially transparent. The AOA Board of Trustees has worked hard to advance this issue over the last year. However, others continue to overlook the reforms that are clearly needed, resisting change and placing a narrow agenda ahead of what's right for all of optometry. Nevertheless, our important work on this issue will not stop. Together with state associations, the AOA will continue to advocate for the principles agreed upon by the profession-wide Dallas summit held in 2016, be a staunch watchdog for the profession and keep the profession informed regarding all areas and aspects of accreditation of continuing professional education.

Council on Research . Last year’s AOA Optometric Research Summit – A Vision for the Future of Optometric Research, held July 9 to 10, in Arlington, Va., brought the profession together to assess the current optometric research environment and chart strategies for engaging and encouraging more doctors of optometry to seek roles in the promotion of scientific research. It was a pivotal meeting with leaders in the optometric research community. Some of the goals emerging out of the summit were to:

  • increase the central resources available for the conduct of optometric research;
  • facilitate the communication of current gaps in clinical knowledge to the researchers who can work to close them;
  • increase the number of doctors of optometry pursuing formal research training; and
  • improve dissemination of research findings in optometry's classrooms and clinics.

Following the summit, the AOA Board of Trustees, working with the AOA Council on Research, announced the first-ever Investigator Initiated Research Award. Applications were accepted through June 7, and the AOA’s Council on Research and AOA board will review the applications and make a final determination on funding later this summer.

The AOA Council on Research is also working with optometry students to assess their interest in pursuing research and working to encourage and foster a new generation of optometric researchers. The council will have an in-person meeting in July at the AOA headquarters to continue to build on the information gathered from the 2018 research summit and to continue optometry’s engagement in the pursuit of research and related activities.

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PCON: Please comment on the AOA’s support of state advocacy over the past year.

Pierce: Last year, we set an agenda to expand optometric scope of practice throughout the country. The AOA Board of Trustees wanted to make sure the AOA stood ready to assist states in any way possible to accomplish this goal. Through the Future Practice Initiative, we set our focus on the future of health care and our essential and expanding role in it.

Optometry has never stood idly by while restrictive state practice laws, based on antiquated perceptions of optometric education and skills, held patient care hostage. Affiliates, supported by the Future Practice Initiative, are creating a new norm. Over the past year, many of the profession's advocates have been hard at work, diligently championing to update laws that will allow Americans to receive full access to the primary eye care services they need and desire.

It requires a unique combination of elements to succeed. The Future Practice Initiative helps those states poised to change with increased lobbying firepower, political presence and on-the-ground support. But in addition to those, it is optometry’s grassroots entrenchment and our place on the right side of history that will position us to win.

This March, Arkansas (ArOA) became one of the latest states to enact scope of practice expansion to include surgical procedures. Their victory is a testament to the diligent grassroots efforts of ArOA members. While lobbyists for the Arkansas Ophthalmological Society were busy outspending optometry by more than three to one in the group's unsuccessful bid to defeat the bill, our doctors outnumbered them on the ground, and ArOA’s ground assault was successful.

However, that was one fight in an ongoing war. Ophthalmology’s pursuit of a ballot initiative in Arkansas is an unprecedented attack on our profession, our institutions, our public standing and our relationship with our patients. The AOA Future Practice Initiative will continue to work with ArOA and support their efforts to fight this ballot initiative, continuing optometry's advancement and safeguarding the health and well-being of our patients.

 

PCON: Please comment on the AOA’s involvement in groups such as the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety and Think About Your Eyes.

Pierce: The AOA is proud to be a Leadership Partner in the Health Care Alliance for Patient Safety, the only coalition focused on advocating for patient safety and protecting and defending the doctor-patient relationship – the essential foundation of personalized health care decision-making. The organization has worked diligently to raise awareness and advocate for contact lens patient safety and responsible telehealth tools and regulations. This unique collaboration between leading health care advocates, vision innovators and treatment specialists is essential to push patient care and vision protection forward.

Think About Your Eyes, in partnership with AOA and 47 affiliates, continues its incredible success in reaching Americans with optometry’s message about the importance of in-person, annual eye exams. Since the program began, it has generated more than 8 million eye exams and counting. And we look forward to continuing that momentum and collaborating with Think About Your Eyes to get everyone to make their appointment for a #2020EyeExam.

 

PCON: What programs do you believe need continued attention going forward?

Pierce: Just as we outlined in the 2020 program, everything the AOA does today needs to continue and evolve as the health care environment changes. We are entering a year when there will be a lot of uncertainties, but one thing is crystal clear: AOA will continue to work across all spectrums to ensure that doctors of optometry have the ability to deliver the essential, primary eye health and vision care that they are trained to deliver and that we uphold patient safety and care. – interviewed by Nancy Hemphill, ELS, FAAO

Disclosure: Pierce is president of the AOA.