Hopping meets with APHA leaders, sees bigger role for optometrists in ‘rewired’ public health care system

December 1, 2012

Optometry’s role in a rapidly changing public health system was the topic as AOA President Ronald Hopping, O.D., MPH, met with top American Public Health Association (APHA) leaders – including APHA President Melvin Shipp, O.D., Dr.PH, MPH – and experts in a half dozen specialized public health fields during the APHA 140th Annual Meeting and Exposition, Oct, 27-31, in San Francisco.

“We’re exploring new ideas, new partnerships and new approaches to address issues critical to both the profession of optometry and the public health system,” Dr. Hopping said, echoing a conference theme.

In addition to APHA leaders, Dr. Hopping met with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the meeting.

The American public health system is in a virtual “state of crisis” as the result of anticipated funding cutbacks at the federal, state, and local levels. Dr. Shipp told AOA News shortly after assuming leadership of the 30,000-member public health association last year.

Those funding cutbacks come just as demand for public health services is increasing with changes in the U.S. economy and as studies continue to uncover disparities in the nation’s health care system, Dr. Shipp added.

This year’s APHA midyear meeting focused largely on “rewiring” the American public health care system to address growing demand for services amid increasing financial restraints, Dr. Shipp said.

“Optometrists must play a prominent role in a revamped public health system,” Dr. Hopping emphasized. “Public health must meet the growing demand for eye and vision care. Moreover, optometrists often service as a point of entry to the health care system, diagnosing ocular manifestations of systemic conditions that often occur at higher rates of frequency in disadvantaged and underserved populations.”

“Yet within the low income population served by federal qualified community health centers, as many as 7.5 million children are going without access to comprehensive primary care optometry vision services, and these numbers will soon swell to over 9 million,” noted Michael Duenas, O.D., AOA chief public health officer, citing data from the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), 2010 Uniform Data System (UDS) metrics.

During two days of meetings at the APHA conference, Dr. Hopping outlined strategies by which the public health system can more effectively provide eye and vision care, despite economic constraints, and how optometry can enhance public health’s mission to provide care for the underserved.

The intensive round of talks included discussions with the following APHA sections:

  • Aging and Public Health Section
  • Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs
  • Environment
  • Epidemiology
  • Injury Control and Emergency Health Services
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Mental Health
  • Oral Health, and
  • School Health and Education Services.

During each meeting, Dr. Hopping provided specialized AOA fact sheets on the importance of optometry to each field of public health and opportunities for mutually beneficial interaction.

AOA members interested in working with local public health officials to address eye care-related issues can access the AOA public health fact sheet on the AOA website public health page (www.aoa.org/x4778.xml).

“For example, many in the field of injury control and emergency health services may not yet be aware of the role optometrists can play in preventing injuries through the dispensing of protective eyewear or in reducing the need for expensive emergency room care by providing emergency eye care in their practices,” Dr. Hopping said. “Conversely, many optometrists may not yet realize the important role they could play in reducing tobacco use and alcohol abuse by counseling patients on how these substances can be a contributing factor in cataracts and other eye conditions.”

Expanded participation by optometry in public health will not only be important in caring for underserved populations but, ultimately, meeting the health care needs of America as a whole, Dr. Hopping said.

The American health care system is moving rapidly towards new coordinated care models, such medical homes and accountable care organizations, based on concepts first developed in public health, Dr. Hopping said.

“In demonstrating the critical role optometry can play in the public health system of today, we can help to ensure optometry’s place in the coordinated care system that will serve much of the U.S. population in the not-to-distant future,” Dr. Hopping said.

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