American Academy of Ophthalmology staff and members have had several recent successes advocating for the profession at the federal and state levels.
"Times do change, and the necessity of advocacy has become apparent," he added.
"If we want to improve the chances of good things happening, and perhaps reduce the chances of bad things happening, it's critical for our advocacy to be successful," Dr. Wilkinson said. "We must become more involved."
"Unfortunately, the conversion factor is tied to the flawed [sustainable growth rate] formula, and it must be changed," he said. To address this issue, Dr. Wilkinson urged AAO members to contact their senators and representatives in Congress and to encourage their patients to do the same.
Participation in membership surveys also could help the specialty, he said. Those representing the field of ophthalmology on the American Medical Association's AMA/Specialty Society Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC) over the past 5 years have "averted many disastrous cuts, and they recently secured major financial gain by equating eye visit codes to their corresponding [evaluation and management] codes," Dr. Wilkinson said. "One of the keys to their success is the use of data collected through member surveys to convince their RUC colleagues that our work should be protected from cuts."
Concluding, he encouraged AAO members to donate to the organization's political action committee, OphthPAC; participate in its Congressional Advocacy Day (set for April 9 to 10, 2008) to learn about legislative issues affecting the ophthalmic profession and meet with senators and congressional representatives; and contact members of Congress on their own with their concerns.
"We face a major challenge to ensure that all Americans have access to quality eye care," Dr. Wilkinson said.
AAO President-elect David W. Parke II, MD, echoed and expanded on the president's comments in his subsequent address during the opening session.
"We find ourselves and our academy beginning the second half-century of a battle to ensure that the high standards of ophthalmologic medical and surgical care are not diluted," he said. "We speak not only for our profession but for our patients, advocating for safe, high-quality care by physicians."
Dr. Parke detailed successful advocacy efforts recently undertaken by AAO staff and members in Puerto Rico and several states that have strengthened or maintained the role of the ophthalmologist where the optometry profession has sought a responsibility in prescribing medication or offering surgery-related care.
"Alaska ophthalmologists provided evidence leading their state medical board to adopt a rule imposing penalties if a physician delegated postoperative management to a non-physician within 72 hours of surgery," Dr. Parke said. "Oregon ophthalmologists successfully passed legislation that adds ophthalmologic oversight to the optometric treatment of glaucoma, rolling back optometric therapeutic privileges.
"Indiana ophthalmologists defeated a phenomenally aggressive bill that would have authorized optometrists to prescribe controlled substances. Texas and Puerto Rico ophthalmologists successfully defeated attempts by optometrists to be legislatively granted surgical privileges.