Last year, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) announced plans to promote “an eye care delivery model based on a synergistic collaboration between optometry and ophthalmology.” As part of this effort, ASCRS decided to allow some optometrists to join the organization and also included an educational track for ODs at its annual meeting, taking place April 19 to 23.

The only catch: To join ASCRS, the OD must be employed by an ophthalmologist, by industry or be a member of the military. Subsequently, many optometrists considered this a backhanded insult, and a collaborative effort in name only.

Dr. Edlow, one of five optometrists on the task force, explains the ultimate need for this project:

Optometrists and ophthalmologists work together under the same roof with increasing frequency. Most often, the collegial working relationships are the result of market forces and just plain common sense.

Historically, the same cannot be said of the relationships on the state and national levels, where bickering and disagreement have existed for decades over which class of professionals should provide which services. What comes to mind is the lack of agreement on issues and the drawing of lines in the sand that we observe amongst our representatives in Congress—a clear example of little to no progress at the expense of the average citizen.

Recently, as many of the national leaders in eye care have realized, the increasing demand for eye care services is being met by a flat to declining workforce of eye doctors. Thus, for the overall benefit of the average citizen, optometry and ophthalmology must find ways to work together cooperatively in a more efficient and productive model.

I was asked to participate in the ASCRS Integrated Ophthalmic-Managed Eyecare Delivery Model (IOMED) Task Force and readily accepted the challenge. This has not been without controversy, as participation in the ASCRS IOMED program has been limited to optometrists who are employed by an ophthalmologist, the military or industry.

My perspective is quite simple: You have to start somewhere. Ignoring the “olive branch” does nothing positive in my mind and, in the long run, the marketplace will work its magical wonders to determine how optometrists and ophthalmologists should structure their professional working relationships.

In the meantime, the more collaborative efforts there are, the better. Who knows, perhaps someday optometrists and ophthalmologists may all be members of the “American Association of Eye Care Providers”?