Through the challenges we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that seeing the positive has been tough. Optometry was set to own the year 2020, and things quickly changed, disrupting our lives, our profession and our patients. But if history has one lesson for us, it’s that we are defined not by these critical moments but how we overcome them. And through this tumultuous year, optometry came together to not simply survive the pandemic but to position the profession for further advancement today and in the future.
Early on, optometry’s important role in delivering urgent and emergent care was quickly recognized. In just one month of the pandemic, sixty percent of the patients optometrists delivered care to would have otherwise sought treatment at an emergency department or urgent care facility. The discussion – and focus – wasn’t only on the eye exam but the comprehensive care we are capable of delivering.
Vision impairments will cost the United States $177 billion in 2021. Absent investments in vision and eye health as a public priority, these costs will increase to $717 billion by 2050. The key to improved eye and vision health in America is the care optometrists are trained and educated to provide. But we have to have the ability to deliver that care – to practice contemporary optometry. And despite the drawbacks of the pandemic, there is clear progress. All signs say we are at a tipping point in expanding scope of optometry practice across the country.
Last year’s protracted win in Arkansas expanding optometry’s scope was an important moment for the profession and one that is paving the way for an exciting movement in health care. After concerted advocacy in the state, optometrists overcame significant opposition and secured the ability to perform ophthalmic procedures in keeping with optometric education—selective laser trabeculoplasty and YAG laser capsulotomy, certain injections (excluding intravenous and intraocular), removal of lid lesions, and chalazion incision and curettage. This win was the beginning of a tipping point. In the last several months, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Massachusetts all fought for and secured important scope advancement wins. And last week, legislation that enables optometrists to perform injections, lumps and bumps and YAG laser procedures was signed into law by the Mississippi governor – my home state.
The Mississippi bill is one of many actively making their way through states, Affiliates and the American Optometric Association are working together to fight for their success. All the while, we are also working to ensure that our role in the nationwide health effort to vaccinate Americans is realized. As of March 4, eight states had enabled optometrists to deliver vaccinations. And then on March 11, the Biden Administration became the most recent voice reinforcing the true, primary eye health care role that optometrists play in America’s wellbeing by making us eligible to deliver vaccines nationally.
We have persevered through the most challenging time in our history, demonstrating our resolve and power. It is up to us to work together, continue the momentum and realize the brighter future that we all envision for optometry’s family and for all patients.