ABO chair calls ruling ‘historic decision,’ shares thoughts on future

August 16, 2012

Now that the American Board of Optometry (ABO) board certification lawsuit brought by the American Optometric Society (AOS) has played out in federal court with a favorable ruling for the ABO, AOA News asked Paul C. Ajamian, O.D., chairman of the ABO board, for his thoughts on the subject.

AOA News: What is your interpretation of the lawsuit ruling? Is it a definitive victory for the ABO?

Dr. Ajamian: This was a most definitive victory for the ABO and a historic decision for optometry going forward. In reality, the ruling was very narrow and addressed the question of whether the use of the term “board certification” is “false, confusing, deceptive, misleading to the public” in violation of the Lanham Act. The conclusion in federal court by Judge Matz was that the AOS wholly failed to present evidence that would prove its case, and it was dismissed without the ABO ever having to put on a defense. The judge did not rule on the value or quality of the ABO program; that wasn’t what the suit was about.

AOA News: Can you provide some background on who was involved in developing the framework for the board certification process?

Dr. Ajamian: As you know, the ABO is based on the work of some of the most highly respected leaders in optometry. Leaders in all areas of the profession. Leaders from the Academy and from ASCO (the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry), and from the AOA and AOSA, as well as from the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry (ARBO) and National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). We can look back with confidence knowing that the best and brightest were part of laying the foundation for a board certification program that just about every learned profession has, both within and outside of health care. We have something tangible, we have something in place, we have something that we’ve worked countless hours to build, and we are very proud of it.

AOA News: What would you say to the AOS or others who view board certification in a different light?

Dr. Ajamian: We are fine if they have differing opinions. But it’s time to stop the eblasts and blogs and pettiness and personal attacks. The profession is tired of it. For those who don’t think board certification is necessary, step aside and make way for the many who will embrace the concept of demonstrating to their patients that they are committed to a process of lifelong learning.

AOA News: Aside from the lawsuit, what gains has the ABO made since its inception?

Dr. Ajamian: In a few short years we have completed three exam cycles. We are preparing for the fourth examination in January that we expect many to participate in.  We are very proud of the examination and the responses from those who have studied hard and know what a beneficial process that it was. We are proud of the pass rate. It is proof that optometrists have taken it seriously, and that they can integrate knowledge into clinical skills. We have begun the maintenance of certification program; we have a self-assessment module on the website and more in development this year. We’ve appointed the first public member of the board. We have also applied for National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) accreditation.

The really big news is that we were approved this year as fully qualified for the PQRS (Physician Quality Reporting Service) MOC (Maintenance of Certification) extra incentive, one of only 13 programs in health care and the only program in optometry to achieve this recognition. The approval and reapproval for the PQRS MOC incentives in 2012 is not to be taken lightly. This is a significant validation by CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). We have 28 doctors who qualified for the PQRS MOC bonus in 2011.

By numbers, we are approaching 1,000 Diplomates. That’s excellent given that it is a voluntary program. There are many organizations that took many more years to grow to 1,000 or 2,000 or 4,000 members. I am also extremely proud of and grateful to the 125 volunteers and leaders across the nation who helped us with item writing and review. Those doctors will tell you that it was an incredible learning experience and that this whole process can do nothing but improve the quality of care we deliver to patients. So we really appreciate those who have helped us with our volunteer efforts, coming to Atlanta and spending three days of their life writing and reviewing questions.

AOA News: What does the future hold for the ABO?

Dr. Ajamian: Nothing but good things. Our decisive victory in court, along with CMS recognition and many individual stories about how valuable board certification has become for one reason or another, will continue to bolster our efforts to build a better program. The phase-in requirements are time-limited and will expire next year. So we urge you to take advantage of the credit for practice experience and other credentials so that you can become an active candidate now, rather than after the phase-in rules sunset.

Here are the deadlines for the phase-in rules:

April 30, 2013, is the last date you can apply to become an active candidate.

June 30, 2013, is the last date to submit your post-graduate requirements.

January 2014 is the last opportunity to take the exam under the initial phase-in rules.

That really doesn’t mean that anything changes after that. It’s just going to be a little more difficult because you can’t use active points in clinical practice, and points for other credentials like academy fellowship and residencies will be reduced or expire after certain time periods. So it may take longer to qualify for the examination and entry into the program.  Our new website will have the details, so visit http://www.abopt.org.

AOA News: How has ABO board certification helped individual doctors so far?

Dr. Ajamian: First of all, credentialing by third-party payers is predicted to get more rigorous in the future, and board certification could certainly be a big part of that. But in the here and now, we have had Diplomates whose board certification credential has contributed to obtaining hospital privileges, principal investigator status for major ophthalmic company research studies, and committee appointments and panel memberships for HMOs and other health care organizations. I am especially pleased for our new graduates and young ODs, as they can choose to be a part of this exciting new avenue to demonstrate their competence throughout their entire careers.


  1. Great job ABO! Thanks to all of you for your tireless efforts!
    Jeff Miller, O.D.

  2. Congratulations to the profession for building a solid board certification program. As Dr. Ajamian shared, this was built by the profession as a whole for the future of our profession. Leaders look to the future and position our profession for what lies ahead, sometimes, not all will agree, but in the end, more would be upset if the leaders HAD NOT put our profession in a position to participate at the highest level. For those who don’t want to participate, that is the beauty…..you don’t have to, but being negative and complaining about the ABO is not good for our profession. I am proud of my Diplomate status and the effort I put forth for my personal and professional satisfaction and more importantly, for my patients.

  3. […] ABO chair calls ruling 'historic decision,' shares thoughts on future … […]

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