Scott A. Edmonds, OD, FAAO, focuses his blog on the role of the optometrist in health care reform – moving from primary eye care to primary health care. He is the chief medical officer of MARCH Vision Care, the co-director of the Low Vision/Contact Lens Service at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia and a member of the Primary Care Optometry News Editorial Board. 

Disclosure: Edmonds is a consultant for March Vision and OcuHub.

BLOG: Take a stand

I read with interest an email message from the American Public Health Association.

I am a long-time member of this organization and participate in the vision care section. The mission of the Vision Care Section of American Public Health Association (APHA) is to promote health and well-being with an emphasis on vision and eye health through interdisciplinary partnerships (www.apha.org).

In my e-mail from the president of APHA, I received a background on Judge Brett Kavanagh and his decision and positions related to public health issues. Based on this background, the APHA is not able to support Judge Kavanagh and is urging all members to contact our respective senators and oppose the nomination.

I was not sure about my thoughts about this nomination. Judge Kavanagh’s credentials are outstanding, and his speech at the nomination showed him to be genuine and engaging. I certainly do not have the time to research and analyze his work. I very much value the background provided by APHA and can appreciate their position. I need to evaluate this in light of other information that I have on this nomination to make a personal decision.

In writing this blog and to prepare for my presentations as part of the public health program at Salus University, I often look to the positions of health care organizations. In addition to APHA, I also look at the positions of the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians and even the American Academy of Ophthalmology. I may not agree with all of the things that I read, but it is important to look at opinions and study the rationale behind organizational positions.

What I struggle to find is the positions of optometry on issues of public health and public policy. It seems that the advocacy positions of the American Optometric Association and the state affiliates are all related to protecting the business of optometry. In looking at the AOA’s issues of business advocacy and their silence on important health issues where virtually all health care organizations have a public position, it would seem that the AOA family of organizations are more trade associations rather than health care organizations.

The American Academy of Optometry is even more silent and is unique in that there is not even a link to any type of advocacy on its website. In its historic quest to avoid politics and focus on education and research, they are out of step with the academies of all other health care specialties.

To evolve away from our roots as merchants and peddlers and embrace the role as a health care professionals, it is time for the organizations that represent us to “step up” and take some positions on the issues that affect the health and vision of our patients. The schools and colleges of optometry have been training young health care providers since the 1960s. In fact, our students are taught far more pharmacology and medical treatment than optics and vision correction. In today’s optometry curriculum there are virtually no courses in business or practice management. It is hardly fair to have these health care professionals represented by a trade association.

As a respected primary health care professional in your community, it is important to read and understand the issues and then take a stand. Hopefully the organizations that represent us will be helpful in providing background and analysis from an optometric perspective in the future.