Will board-certified optometrists have “the highest level of certification available in eye care”? Will board-certified optometrists be “above the crowd”?

The American Optometric Society (AOS) doesn’t think so. And, on May 26, the AOS filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the American Board of Optometry (ABO) saying as much.

The suit takes issue with statements on the ABO’s website, such as:

• “Board Certified Optometrists will be able to demonstrate their competence beyond entry level for optometric licensure.”
• “Demand an optometrist who has gone ABOVE the basic requirements through ABO certification.”
• “Board Certification is a voluntary process that establishes standards that demonstrate that the doctor of optometry has exceeded the requirement(s) for licensure.”

The lawsuit, filed by optometrist and attorney for the AOS, Craig Steinberg, argues that such statements “are false, misleading, and/or have a tendency to mislead the public.”

It goes on to say, “ABO certified optometrists are not more competent than other optometrists, have no training or education that other optometrists do not have, are not ‘above’ other optometrists, and have no knowledge, skills or formal education not already required for licensure.”

(In point of fact, the lawsuit asserts that certification as a Diplomate of the American Academy of Optometry is the highest level of certification available and demonstrates the highest degree of knowledge, training and skill within the optometric profession.)

The AOS lawsuit also contends that these statements represent unlawful business practices and unfair competition: “These representations are likely to influence the purchasing decisions of both consumers of eye care, who will view … ABO Board Certified optometrists as more competent than other optometrists, and of optometrists, who will purchase ABO certification for fear [of] losing patients due to concern that consumers will believe the false representations.”

Through the lawsuit, the AOS requests an injunction to permanently prohibit the ABO “from making false and misleading statements” concerning the competency of ABO certified optometrists compared to other optometrists.

“The AOS does not take filing a lawsuit lightly, and the [AOS] Board considered every option short of a lawsuit,” says optometrist and attorney Pam Miller, AOS President. “But the actions of the ABO and its unwavering determination to make ABO certified doctors appear more qualified than other optometrists simply left us no choice.”

The ABO had no comment at press time.