Ophthalmologists, ODs can work together, but encroachment on surgery is 'infuriating,' says AAO leader

April 4, 2009

San Francisco-Ophthalmologists and optometrists can and should work together as colleagues in service to patients but with appropriately defined responsibilities. That's the word from guest speaker David W. Parke II, MD, the new executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

San Francisco-Ophthalmologists and optometrists can and should work together as colleagues in service to patients but with appropriately defined responsibilities. That’s the word from guest speaker David W. Parke II, MD, the new executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

In several states, legislation has been introduced to permit optometrists the right to perform certain procedures-lid, LASIK, and even cataract surgery.

"Not by virtue of education or even demonstrated competence, but by virtue of legislation," Parke said. "At a time that we, as physicians, are being subjected to more and more regulations in the name of quality and patient safety, this is infuriating."

The profession of ophthalmology, however, has had a great deal of success in opposing such initiatives, thanks to effective state-level organizations as well as the personal involvement and financial support of many of its practitioners, he added.

Dr. Parke welcomed American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery annual meeting attendees to the AAO’s home city with some sobering facts: less than 0.3% of the total U.S. population is physicians, and ophthalmologists make up 2.5% of those physicians.

Further diluting their clout on Capitol Hill, he said, is the heterogeneous nature of ophthalmologists’ practices: some practice solo, some in academia, and some in groups large enough to qualify as corporate entities.

"In some cases, that diversity of practices leads to a diversity of priorities," Dr. Parke said.

Just because ophthalmologists are not among the bigger players does not mean they’re not without leverage, he added.

"We have experienced physician advocates, and experienced staff and lobbyists, our [political action committees] are substantial, we have access to key decision-makers, and we have very cogent arguments to make," Dr. Parke said. "But it will take a unified effort, coordinated by all the players in our profession.

"We, as a profession, are not going to have the impact on health-care policy that we would like without the active engagement of every single ophthalmologist," Dr. Parke said. "We are a small voice but a powerful voice, and we’ll become much more powerful with broad-based engagement. As a profession, we always have active issues before us. I truly feel our profession has the opportunity to have an impact if we work together, understand the issues, and understand the principles of effective action."

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