Women In Optometry (WO) recently conducted a Pop-up Poll asking respondents to cite in one word the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat facing optometry. Those results are represented in the word clouds below. Several WO advisory panel members also weighed in.
Mario Gutierrez, OD, FAAO, of San Antonio, Texas, reflects the consensus. “The greatest opportunity facing optometry is growing the medical aspects of a practice, which necessitates efforts to participate and work—or even sacrifice—to help expand the scope of practice of optometry,” he says. “As America ages, there will be a growing demand for our services. Now is a great time to enhance our clinical skills, our billing/coding skills and our medical optometry education skills to primary care providers, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, accountable care organizations and, especially, to our patients.”
Mary Anne Murphy, OD, of Broomfield, Colorado, agrees, noting that the “coordination of care, in which optometrists are working at the core of the doctor-patient relationship, and specialty services, including dry eye and specialty contact lenses, are prime growth areas.”
Furthermore, Dr. Murphy takes a step back to look at how optometry is positioned in the health care arena. “The greatest opportunity in optometry is workstyle flexibility. I have so many options when it comes to practice modalities,” she says. She owns a Vision Source® member practice where nearly all doctors and employees work less than full time, allowing them a chance to be ambassadors for the practice through their other community involvements.
Pressure and concerns come from a variety of directions. Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO, FSLS, FBCLA, of Sacramento, California, says that online contact lens sales from sources other than the provider or reputable source are problematic for patients and providers. “Patients may not be receiving the actual contact lens prescribed,” she says. If the material distributed by an online source is inferior to that prescribed by the provider, “patients may experience dry, irritated and tired eyes with these materials and may want to discontinue or drop out of contact lenses.”
Not only does that translate into fewer visits or a lost patient, potentially, for the provider, the risk to the patients is real. In her 2008 study in Ophthalmology, head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW Sydney, Fiona Stapleton, PhD, reported a fourtimes increased risk of microbial keratitis for patients who purchased their contact lenses online, Dr. Barnett says. In addition, according to the Journal of Forensic Sciences, contamination occurred in 60 percent of suspected counterfeit contact lenses and 27 percent of authentic, noncorrective decorative lenses. Organisms discovered included Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Bacillus cerus. In contrast, 3 percent of authentic, prescribed contact lenses showed contamination. “Contact lenses are FDA-approved medical devices. It is of upmost importance that they are purchased with a valid prescription,” says Dr. Barnett.
Dr. Murphy says that the most significant threats are unregulated technology, lack of a unified representing body for the profession and the lack of top-tier applicants for optometry schools that drive the future of our profession.
That’s a concern that is echoed by Dr. Gutierrez, who notes that in addition to drawing top students, we “all—schools, organized optometry, individual ODs and students—need to contemplate and be creative to help reduce the financial stress on our graduates. At the same time, we need to figure out how to attract and absorb the best new graduates into private practice. If we do not address these concerns, then private practice optometry will suffer in the future. If this happens, then, ultimately, the profession will suffer.”