By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO September 19, 2011

Progress, to me, means real improvement. Activity, however, does not necessarily result in progress at all. Remember Hans and Franz…members of the foreign legion. One day, their commandant announced that he had “good news.” After weeks in the desert, “Today,” he announced, “you get a change in underwear.” Momentary joy…followed by the instruction, “Hans, you ‘change’ with Franz.”

Progress means change. It must be a purposeful activity; it means moving forward. My favorite movie of all time is Hoosiers. In fact, I cry every time I watch Ollie make the winning free throw. Here is how Ollie described progress: “Progress is electricity, school consolidation, church remodeling, second farm tractors, second farm cars, hay bailers, corn pickers, grain combines, field choppers, and indoor plumbing.” No question about it, each of these improvements caused progress on the farm in Hickory.

I think it is important that we remind ourselves about progress in optometry. In my mind, it all began with the landmark law which gave optometrists equal standing as physicians under Medicare. Our ability to diagnose then led to our ability to treat. Our clinical privilege expanded from DPAs to TPAs to oral medications and injectibles and beyond. And look at us now. We’ve become important participants in chronic disease management.

So, what would make things better “on the farm” in optometry? Do we need to progress further? Progress in optometry has not come easy. Dedicated and purposeful effort has been required at every step along the way. Not everyone wants us to progress. Some would even prefer that our privileges be limited. I would submit that offense is the best defense. Now is a good time to review the playbook and renew our efforts.

Optometry needs to progress in at least two critical areas.

First, we need greater recognition in the medical community and in the public at large of our clinical and professional skills. We need statistically significant data to document our contributions and cost effectiveness in chronic disease management—specifically, in diabetes and hypertension. That’s why the VSP Eye Health Management Program® is so important.

And second, we need increased access to patients. Optometrists do not have fair access to medical panels in many parts of the country. It is enough already! We need to renew our efforts to gain entry on medical panels and right this injustice that has gone on too long. In the meantime, our practices must maintain economic viability. Therefore, we must continue to access patients through BOTH traditional vision plans and medical plans as we move forward.

As I see it, our two biggest impediments to progress are anonymity and fragmentation. Optometry must tell its story and we must work together as a cohesive profession—we cannot work against ourselves.

If we are recognized and if we have access, they will come.

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