"Professional" Optometry? It seems a silly oxymoron – unless one is to imply there is such thing as "Unprofessional" Optometry. I would prefer not to go there.
However, the previous term seems to penetrate the industry trade news and I think it deserves to be expounded upon. I, for one, don't believe there is a single mode of practice that "Professional" Optometry refers to. Conversely, I believe this term can encompass all elements of optometry – including both practicing optometrists as well as those who are involved in the corporate world who may not see patients on a day-to-basis but still have a profound impact on the tools we use and information we have to care for them better. This topic is deserving of a white paper, but for the sake of this blog entry, I will refer to one element of "Professional" Optometry that I like to call "Responsible" Optometry.
I hope we would all agree that we would like to see our current profession thrive. In that vein, wouldn't we each want to contribute to the well-being of the profession in any way that we could? To me, this is simply the responsible thing to do. For instance, if you were a post doc OD researcher in a lab, would your time best be spent figuring out how to help a PA perform better funds exams and refractions or researching more effective ways that ODs could manage dry eye? In my mind, very simply, the answer is the latter. If we are trying to grow our profession, we would seek to gather information that would be helpful to our peers to allow them to practice optometry even better.
Understandably, it's not always that simple. Nevertheless, as practicing optometrists, I think we can make simple changes to our behaviors that will allow our profession to flourish. For instance, in Colorado, I am fortunate to be surrounded by ODs and MDs and opticians that work really well together. We each respect each other's role in the eye care process and work hard to meet the needs of our patients. To be clear, I am not referring exclusively to private practitioners but rather all modes of practice for optometry.
In order to grow our profession, it is my belief that infra-professional referrals play a pivotal role to patient care. Specifically, if I have a patient that requires vision therapy, I am going to reach out to another OD in my area that specializes in vision therapy. I know they do it better than I can. If a patient requires specialty contact lens fitting or glaucoma treatment (and the referring doctor doesn't have a passion for it or is not in a setting that is conducive to this type of care), it is my hope that my local colleagues, whether in private or commercial settings, will think of their OD colleagues first for referral. By doing so, we can continue to grow the reputation of optometry as a profession.
I recall a sad day in my career when I met a patient who had been referred to me by my local corneal specialist. The poor man had been to four eye doctors prior to me. He first went to a private practice OD and was told he could not be fit with contacts as his condition was “too far gone.” He then went to a commercial practice and was told he did, in fact, have hope and could wear contacts but would need to see a specialist, so he was referred to a general ophthalmologist. The end of the story is probably pretty obvious from here: generalist refers to a corneal specialist, who then refers to me for specialty scleral fit. Upon arrival, the patient states, "I've been to optometrists; there is nothing you can do." Insert sad face emoji here. I proved him wrong.
So back to the topic, Responsible Optometry; let's get down to doing what we do best. And for what we can't/don't want to do, if it is within the realm of optometry, please consider referring to your optometric colleagues. This will allow our profession to prosper as we continue to build our reputation as first-class eye care providers.
Reach out to your local network of PCPs, PA, etc. to ensure that they know what “being an optometrist” really means. Furthermore, reach out to other ODs in your area to ensure they know what your specialties are, what insurance you accept and what special instruments you may have or unique testing you may offer. Help them understand that no matter the practice set, we each have similar training and can guide patients in the right direction. There I said it. Off my soapbox.
As I see it, as a company, VSP is committed to preserving the practice of optometry. We must continue to grow the profession in a way that there is something tangible to protect. Let's do our part.
In what ways can we promote Responsible Optometry? Join the discussion on the VSP Providers Facebook page.