Consider this commentary on your profession: “There are many conscientious and skilled optometrists; men who will frankly admit their limitations when they see that the eye conditions of their visitors are beyond their abilities and training. But there are many optometrists—far too many—who blithely undertake problems beyond their training. To consult one of these, when you have serious eye trouble, may be worse than useless.”
Aside from the sexism (not all ODs are men, by a long shot), that could have been published today. But it dates back to 1937, the year Reader’s Digest, of all publications, attacked the still-young profession of optometry in a scathing, exposé-style article called “Optometry on Trial.” You can read all about it in our 125th anniversary issue from July 2016, but the gist is that Reader’s Digest took it upon itself to have people pose as patients and sent them for optometric exams in hopes of uncovering widespread ineptitude.
That article and the ensuing scandal stymied optometry’s progress for years. Now, a group called the Safe Surgery Coalition is hoping to do the same, using a video testimonial by a woman who experienced complications (IOL pitting) from an optometrist’s capsulotomy to gin up support for a letter-writing campaign aimed at stopping scope expansion bills that push for minor surgical procedures.
The patient’s suffering is legitimate and shouldn’t be marginalized. But complications do happen, no matter who’s sitting behind the laser. Studies show IOL pitting occurs in 10% to 20% of cases. Are we to believe these were all done by ODs? I find it odd that the medical lobby—usually so straight-laced about adhering to the tenets of evidence-based medicine—would rely almost entirely on a single report to support its argument. Since when does n=1 indicate strong evidence of anything?
Anyway, such was the opening gambit in the group’s bid to undo the recent bill that gave Arkansas ODs the right to do laser procedures. The MDs have called for a referendum on the bill to be added to the November 2020 ballot. If they get the requisite signatures by July 23, optometry’s fate suddenly will be decided in the court of public opinion.
So be it. This isn’t the ’30s. Today’s educational institutions and professional standards are radically better. If we’re about to embark on a year and a half of public bickering over qualifications, optometry has plenty to tout, first and foremost 20 years of successful outcomes in Oklahoma. Also, the AOA is publicizing a study projecting a $4.6 billion savings to be had from widespread scope expansion and a survey showing strong public support for optometric care. A new OD group called Arkansans for Healthy Eyes is already working hard to cut through the disinformation campaign in that state. We’re ready.
“The article contains some truth,” Review’s editor wearily wrote back in 1937, “but it also contains some half-truths, a good deal of exaggeration and generalization, some statements that are manifestly unfair and some that are positively silly.” Brace yourself for more of the same.