Tuesday, September 1, 2015

We are...POA!

I didn’t grow up in Pennsylvania, and I’ve never been a big college football fan, so when I moved to Reading and started to hear “We are...Penn State,” it was new to me. As an outsider, it really strikes me as a great chant because it stresses that the strength of the university is its community of students, alumni, and supporters. 
During my time as a volunteer leader with the POA, I often hear members asking, “What is the POA doing about this issue?” I think it’s much more positive if we develop a culture within our optometric association where we say, “What are we doing about this issue?”
I realize that every member can’t possibly be up to date on all the issues facing our profession. In reality, even the POA’s Board members and staff can’t be completely knowledgeable about every issue. It is always okay – even encouraged – to ask questions about how we are addressing issues and meeting challenges. But I would also like every member to see themselves as a contributing and involved part of the POA (and the AOA), even if just in a small way, like a Penn State alum who only makes it to one game a year and sits at the top of the stadium. It still feels like they are invested. 
We currently have three legislative initiatives that we are addressing in the Pennsylvania legislature. The first is Senator Ward’s bill to address inequities in the policies of third party vision plans. Hopefully you have heard the details of this bill before. The second is a bill sponsored by Senator Gordner to remove outdated restrictions from our practice act. There is also a bill introduced by Senator Argall and supported by the PA Academy of Ophthalmology that seeks to restrict our profession by placing a definition of ophthalmic surgery in the medical practice act. If we are going to be victorious in advancing two positive pieces of legislation, and defend against an attempt to set us back, it is going to take contributions from every member. These contributions need to be in both time and donations. 
Firstly, we need every member to be involved in the grass roots effort to meet with legislators. We have a keyperson assigned to each Senator and House member. That doctor is expected to maintain a relationship with their assigned legislator and to meet with the legislator when there is a bill that would affect optometry in order to provide input. Ideally every other member of the POA would support their fellow member who is acting as a keyperson. When the legislator has a local fundraiser, we would like to have all the optometrists in the district attend, instead of just the keyperson. When the keyperson goes in to the legislator’s office to discuss a bill that is important to optometry, having a few other members go along increases the impact significantly. We do have paid lobbyists who work every day in Harrisburg to form relationships with legislators and try to influence them to vote favorably for optometry. However, the PA Academy of Ophthalmology, the insurance companies, and other groups that hold positions opposed to ours also have lobbyists. When a legislator hears from both lobbyists and constituents on an issue, it has a much greater impact. If you don’t know who your legislators are, you can easily look it up online. Google “Who is my PA legislator?” Follow the link to the State Senate and House of Representatives. If you don’t know who the POA keyperson is for your legislators, you can email Ilene@poaeyes.org and ask Ilene at the POA office.
Secondly, we need financial support. Hopefully everyone reading this editorial has heard of POPAC and realizes the importance of it. This money is used to make contributions to fundraisers for Pennsylvania legislators. Our lobbyists in Harrisburg attend many fundraisers on our behalf in Harrisburg, and it is our POPAC funds that allow them to do that. POPAC funds are also available (on a matching basis) for members to attend local fundraisers. We have made great strides in increasing our POPAC funds over the last two years. For that, I’d like to send a big thanks to Dr. Greg Caldwell and his POPAC Committee, along with all the members who have made contributions. If you have not made a contribution, please go the website or call the POA office to do that right now. A $500 yearly contribution qualifies for the POA’s incentive program, which returns the $500 in the form of eyeglass lenses and monetary credit toward POA continuing education programs. 
I realize this hasn’t been the inspirational half-time speech of a great college football coach, but hopefully you get the message and are inspired to think of yourself as part of our team of optometrists, working together to advance our profession.
We are...POA!

Rich Christoph, O.D.
POA President

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The POA’s organizational structure – a primer

After talking with many members at the POA’s Annual Congress last month, I realized that a number of our members – including some who are fairly involved – don’t completely understand the organizational structure of our association. So, for those who don’t know, here is a brief explanation.

Within the structure of the POA, we have 14 local societies throughout the state, with an additional local society for students at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University. Each is an independent entity with its own by-laws, officers, treasury, and policies. We also have several affiliated organizations, including the Pennsylvania Paraoptometric Association (PPA), the Vision Conservation Institute (VCI) and the Pennsylvania Optometric Political Action Committee (POPAC).

The POA is ultimately governed by its members via the House of Delegates (HOD). The HOD normally meets once per year at our Annual Congress in the spring. When a vote is called for in the HOD, each local society (except the student society) has a voting strength based on the number of members in good standing within the society. In addition, the student society has one vote, the PCO representative has one vote, and all past POA presidents in attendance collectively have one vote. The HOD elects the POA Board of Directors (BOD), approves the budget, sets policy, and approves all expenditures from the reserve fund. Any member in good standing is eligible to attend the House of Delegates meeting and sit with the delegation from their local society. 

The POA Board of Directors consists of eight elected officers: immediate past president, president, president-elect, secretary-treasurer, and four trustees. Each of these offices is a one-year term. Once a member is elected as president-elect, he or she will serve one year in that office, one year as president, and one year as immediate past-president, without additional election – he or she automatically assumes each office. The trustees and secretary-treasurer are up for re-election each year. Most members of the Board will serve four years as a trustee and one year as secretary-treasurer before being nominated and serving as president-elect. 

Each member of the BOD has responsibility for one of the eight divisions of the volunteer structure, which is comprised of: Budget and Finance, Communications, Professional Services, State and National Affairs, Administration and Planning, Clinical Care, President, and Health Care. Each BOD officer is an optometrist and member of the association. They are volunteers, and are not compensated for their Board service. They are reimbursed for certain travel expenses. (e.g. Board meetings and, in the case of the president and president-elect, Optometry’s Meeting and President’s Council). The Nominating and Evaluating Committee nominates a slate of officers each year, based on their evaluation of the current Board and interviews with prospective Board members. Members may also be nominated from the floor at the HOD meeting after they have served as local society leaders and/or on POA committees.

The POA volunteer structure is extensive. Some committees involve multiple in-person meetings throughout the year in addition to regular email communication and individual committee assignments to complete by formal deadlines. Others involve much less time commitment and conduct most, or all, of their business via email or phone with flexible deadlines. Volunteers are unpaid for their time and work, typically not reimbursed for travel, and are appointed by the president.

The POA staff work from the association’s office in Harrisburg. They are responsible for completing the day-to-day tasks of running the association as directed by the Board and the HOD. They also assist the committees with certain tasks. The Board hires the executive director; he or she is responsible for the staff. Our current staff consists of:

Charlie Stuckey, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Executive Director

Deb Blanchard
Chief Operating Officer

Ilene Sauertieg
Director of Education and Conferences

Kelsey Rodkey
Communications Coordinator

Joanne Cope, Joyce Tesoriero
(and part-time data entry staff)
Electronic Claims Service

Joyce Reiner, CAE (retired)
Special Assignments

The POA also uses various paid consultants for certain tasks. These are generally contracted professionals, such as legal counsel, lobbyists, and investment advisers. Our current consultants are: 
Greg Knight, Esq.
Legal Counsel
Ted Mowatt, Mike Long, Amy Long
Fischer Financial Services

Hopefully this overview gives you a better understanding of the POA structure.

Richard Christoph, O.D.
POA President

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Advocating for all of us

To start this editorial, I want to thank several POA members for taking two days away from their offices to travel to Washington, D.C. and advocate on behalf of all POA members at the AOA Congressional Advocacy Conference. Drs. Mark Margolies, Steven Eiss, Lori Gray, David Evans, Paul Lobby, James Deom, Michael Mittleman and Mark Dalton spent Monday learning the details of the current issues facing optometry in Washington, and Tuesday visiting legislators and their staff on Capitol Hill to make sure optometry’s voice is heard. This was no small sacrifice from a group of doctors who are already giving significant time to advance our profession, and protect optometry from losing access and privileges. We were accompanied by a diverse and enthusiastic group of 12 students from PCO and SUNY College of Optometry, who took time away from their classes and studies to advocate on your behalf, and on behalf of the future of optometry.

Many of you may not be aware of all the issues facing optometry on the federal level. Even those of us who have participated in the last few conferences needed to be updated on the issues. I apologize for the length of this article, but there are several issues, and some are complex. I hope you can take a few minutes to get yourself up to date on these important national issues. 

One of the bills we were discussing with legislators was HR2. This bill addresses Medicare payment reform and the flawed sustainable growth rate formula. As you may have already heard, our timing couldn’t have been better. This bill passed the House before we went to Washington, and passed the Senate on the evening of the day we were on Capitol Hill. This is the bill that has resulted from the threat of significant reductions in the Medicare Fee Schedule for many years, and has required a large number of temporary patches that kept pushing the issue off without solving the underlying problem. The AOA has been working tirelessly during the process of getting to this point to ensure that optometry is treated fairly in the new law. You can expect small increases in the Medicare Fee Schedule over the next few years, followed by the potential for significant increases if you meet certain quality measures. Thanks to the AOA, you have the opportunity to participate in those incentive programs. Also thanks to the AOA, you will be able participate in a more streamlined fashion with less administrative effort.

This bill will combine the current PQRS, EMR Meaningful Use, and Value-Based Modifiers into a new program called MIPS (Merit-Based Incentive Payment System). Each provider will get a MIPS score, which will determine their bonus (or penalty) versus the standard Medicare Fee Schedule. One of the ways you can meet these requirements is to be connected to a registry. With a registry you will get instant feedback about your practice. You will be able to see, for example, how many of your glaucoma patients have had a visual field done in the last year. You will also be able to compare your performance against benchmarks and other practices. This functionality will enable you to meet many of the MIPS requirements seamlessly, without additional tracking or reporting. The AOA has developed an eye care registry for optometry that will be rolled out at Optometry’s Meeting in Seattle. This will be a free member benefit for all members. The registry will also enable AOA to collect aggregate data that will be very useful in evidence-based research and advocacy efforts, just like other medical professions using registries to track things like childhood immunizations. Expect to hear a lot more about the registry and MIPS over the next few years. The AOA will be your source for information and guidance on these programs.

Another bill that we lobbied for addresses Health Service Corps inclusion for optometry. This bill has been reintroduced for a few years and hasn’t passed mainly due to congressional gridlock. It would allow optometrists to practice at community health centers and have access to scholarships for students who commit to providing service after graduation, as well as loan forgiveness for recent graduates who decide to work there. This bill has significant support among legislators, and hopefully with the SGR fix finally behind them, and the progress they made by cooperating and comprising on that issue still fresh in their minds, we have a chance to move forward on this issue as well.

The third piece of legislation that we addressed is the Expanded Veterans Access to Primary Eye Health and Vision Care Act. As part of the recent VA reform legislation, additional residency slots have been created within the VA system. This bill would set aside 20 of those new slots for optometry. The students who accompanied us to Washington were very enthusiastic about this bill, as selection for VA residencies can be quite competitive. Adding more slots gives them additional opportunities to gain valuable experience. This bill does not limit optometry to only 20 additional slots, it only sets that as a minimum number of additional slots above the current level. It will also help to reduce wait times for needed eye health and vision care for our nation’s veterans.

There is also a new effort on the federal level to pass legislation to combat some of the abuses by vision benefit plans. This would be a complementary bill to our state effort, and would ensure that plans couldn’t use exceptions like ERISA to circumvent the state rules. This legislation is still in early discussions and hasn’t reached the point where we were ready to talk to legislators about it, but our leaders at AOA are certainly aware of the issue and working on your behalf to strengthen our state efforts.

As you all undoubtedly encounter every day, there are many people who don’t really understand what an optometrist is and does. Not surprisingly, this is also true of legislators and their staff. We took time during our visits to educate them about optometry, our scope of practice, optometric education, and AOA programs like InfantSEE.

We also learned that Congress will be in session for significantly more days in 2015 than it was in 2014. This, combined with an increasing impetus to take action and a slightly more cooperative atmosphere, will likely result in more laws being passed. This is a positive thing for us in our efforts to move favorable legislation, but it is also a challenge, in that we have to be vigilant for any legislation that would result in a negative impact. This could come as the result of a purposeful attack on our profession, or as a result of an unintentional oversight. On a positive note, the efforts to repeal the Harken Amendment to the Affordable Care Act received almost no support in the last session, and that legislation appears to be dead for the short term. The other attack on optometry that has been losing steam over the last few years was formerly known as the Sullivan Bill. This was an effort to undermine optometry’s scope of practice and confuse the public about our abilities and training. It has been repeatedly defeated, and also looks like it will not to be reintroduced thanks to efforts over the last few years. Our leaders, staff and lobbyists are also acutely aware of the actions of 1-800-CONTACTS in state legislatures over the last few months. Fortunately those efforts have been stymied for the most part. The AOA is vigilant in watching for any similar legislation being introduced on a national level, and will take appropriate action if that should occur.

Of course, a day of discussing legislative priorities at the federal level wouldn’t be complete without an AOA-PAC update. The good news is that Pennsylvania has moved from the last place in giving compared to other states, to the second to last place. While this is a move in the right direction, we still have a long way to go. Nationwide AOA-PAC donations for 2014 were just under $1,000,000. This was an increase versus 2013, but still short of the AOA’s goal of $1.25 million. That means that our leadership has to be very selective about which candidates they support because the funds to support every one of the desired candidates are non-existent. They have established a new website, www.aoapac.org, just for AOA-PAC to make the process of giving very simple. You can make a donation using a credit card very easily. You can also see who in Congress the donations were able to support in the last cycle.

Some of the money is also spent to pay for telemarketers to call AOA members to ask for donations. This is necessary since the telemarketers generate a large percentage of the donations that are received. I encourage you to go to the website now and make a donation, or set up recurring donations, so the AOA can save the cost of calling you and you can avoid receiving the calls.

As additional motivation, ophthalmology has two PACs. One is a basic PAC to address all issues that affect their members, and the second is an “Ophthalmic Surgery Containment Fund,” which, as the name implies, is a fund specifically designed to limit optometric scope of practice. That first PAC raises more money than AOA-PAC, and the second one is almost as large as AOA-PAC. If we are going to maintain our current scope and participation with insurance plans, we need to maintain our strong relationships with legislators. Whether you like it or not, part of that is supporting their campaigns. AOA-PAC is currently receiving the vast majority of its funding from a very small number of older doctors, who are each giving a large yearly donation. We would have a more sustainable PAC if the AOA received a small donation from every member. For your own sake, and for the sake of the next generation of optometrists, if you aren’t already donating to AOA-PAC, go right now and make either a one-time or recurring donation. If we all do a little, no one has to do a lot.

Richard Christoph, O.D.
POA President

Monday, March 2, 2015

Think About Think About Your Eyes

Recently, you may have heard or seen some advertising sponsored by the AOA with the message “It is important to get your eyes examined.” I’ve heard a few of them, and several of my friends who are not optometrists have mentioned to me that they heard them, too. These ads are paid for by the Think About Your Eyes (TAYE) campaign. This isn’t exclusively an AOA program, but the AOA is a contributing sponsor, and inclusion of the AOA name and logo was part of the sponsorship agreement. 

TAYE is a subsidiary of the Vision Council and its sole function is to promote the need for eye examinations. Who among us hasn’t thought for many years that “someone” should do something about the fact that most people don’t understand the need for regular exams? Well, “someone” has stepped up to make that happen. TAYE has received major funding from industry leaders; Alcon, Vistakon, Essilor and Luxottica, among others, have made large commitments to the campaign. Now those companies want someone else to also contribute to this effort; someone who also benefits from increased public awareness of eye care and the need for exams. That someone is you.

I’m sure many of you, much like myself, buy advertising in community bulletins and sports programs, knowing that you probably won’t get any direct benefit from it, but hope that having your name positively associated with community activities may benefit you in the long run. The TAYE website features a doctor locator, and offers a tracking function for doctors that reports how many patients were directly referred to you by the site. I recommend thinking of TAYE as a public relations effort, like those local ads. You may not see a direct benefit that justifies the investment in the short term, but over time, by reinforcing that message of regular eye exams and the importance of eye health, we will see an increase in the entire industry, which will benefit everyone. Your participation in TAYE serves multiple benefits. Firstly, the money you pay goes toward additional advertising. Secondly, the industry sponsors have indicated that if they see doctors participating, they will continue and increase their sponsorships.

You will likely see that the advertising will come in waves. TAYE has some marketing experts who determine where, when and how the money is spent. As with any advertising, it is more effective to have someone hear your message multiple times over a short period than to spread it out. If you think about it, you will realize most advertising campaigns work this way. You keep seeing or hearing the same commercial over and over, and then you don’t hear it for a while, and then they come back with a slightly different message some time later. So if you haven’t heard or seen the ads yet, keep looking and listening. If you heard them and thought they stopped, know that they will likely increase and decrease throughout the year based on what is most effective.

How much is it to support this massive national advertising program? Well, they have two plans, but the basic plan is only $200 for AOA members, and you can use a credit card to make monthly payments (only $16.67 a month!). I encourage you all to go to www.thinkaboutyoureyes.com and check it out. You can sign up and also watch the TV commercials if you haven’t seen them yet.

Richard Christoph, O.D.
POA President

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking forward to 2015

As this is my first editorial as POA President, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you, the POA members, for putting your trust in me to serve as your president. I also want to thank all of you for you membership and for your involvement. There are too many optometrists who sit back and complain that “somebody should do something,” but won’t step up to do anything themselves. Simply by joining, you have already taken the most important step toward improving your profession. 

In late 2014, your POA board, staff and committee volunteers recently spent a day in Hershey making plans for the next year, as we have done annually for many years. With 25 committees and over 75 individual volunteers, it is impossible to outline all the initiatives and goals we have set forth. However, I do want to give you some highlights.

Our Student Membership Task Force has expanded their focus to include doctors who graduated within the last five years. We have made great inroads with the students in terms of educating them about the importance of professional association membership, but we still find we are only retaining about 50% of them as members beyond the fourth year after graduation. They have already started developing programs to get our newest members engaged and active so that they understand the benefits of membership right from the beginning of their careers.

The Pediatric Vision Care Committee has been tasked with evaluating the requirements for children to have eye examinations prior to starting school. As you are all undoubtedly aware children in Pennsylvania are required to have a dental exam before beginning school, but the only requirement for vision is a screening performed by the school nurse. In the past, we have made great progress in improving the quality and effectiveness of those screenings by working directly with school nurses, but now we are going to take a fresh look at requiring a comprehensive exam by an eye doctor. 

The Third Party Center, in addition to their ongoing work ensuring that optometry is treated fairly by third party payers, has been studying the legislative initiatives in other states to limit requirements placed by vision plans. Working closely with the AOA legislative team and other state associations they have developed a legislative initiative that you will be hearing much more about in the near future.

The Legislative Affairs Committee has also been working with the AOA legislative team to keep appraised of action in other states. One of the issues that has been popping up in other states is refractive kiosks and online “examinations.” Obviously there is no eye health component to these “exams,” which puts the public at risk. We are evaluating our current statues to determine if additional legislation is required to regulate this practice. The committee is, of course, continuing to work to protect our current scope of practice and to remove the outdated restrictions that exist in our current Optometric Practice Act. Expect to hear more details about these efforts in the near future.

I’m very proud to announce that our committee chairs and volunteers raised over $10,000 in POPAC donations at our planning meeting. The Board of Directors and most of the committees have committed to a minimum of $500 per year in ongoing support for POPAC. If we want to pass legislation it will require that same level of commitment from the rest of you. If you aren’t already giving on a monthly or quarterly basis, please call the POA office and make the pledge. 

I’m looking forward to a very active year as the POA President. With an ambitious agenda, and an energized committee structure, I’m confident we will make great strides in advancing our profession. I hope to see all of you at a POA function, or local society meeting this year, but if you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact me any time via email at DrChristoph@verizon.net.

Richard Christoph, O.D.
POA President

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My, How Times Does Fly…

It’s such a cliché, but certainly holds true in this case. It seems like just yesterday that I was talking to you about my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. What a year it has been for both me and the POA!

For example, you may recall one of my personal resolutions was to strive to become healthier and hopefully trim my waistline a bit. Well, I can report that I’ve lost 10 pounds (it’s a start) and have become a pescatarian…OK, I’ll admit to an occasional moment of weakness when Wendy, one of those Five Guys or Mr. Fuddrucker draws me in like a moth to the flame! Leadership roles force one to come face-to-face with both personal strengths and weaknesses. I have definitely learned more about myself in the process.

I am proud to look back over the past 11 months and reflect on the good work that has been accomplished. The POA has moved forward in 2014, despite the barrage of challenges we face each year. What an honor it was to help host the AOA’s Optometry’s Meeting® in Philadelphia in June! Even though it presented extra work for our staff, deviation from our yearly meeting schedule and added responsibilities to our Board members, I believe it was well worth the effort. Our Legislative Affairs Committee continues to be steadfast and diligent in their oversight of our current scope of practice in Pennsylvania during the 2013-2014 legislative session. We strengthened the POA’s relationship with Salus University by working closely with its new president, Dr. Mittelman, and PCO’s new Dean of Students, Dr. Lori Grover. This also involved hosting our yearly September Board Meeting on campus with a student event, which provided a fun and educational way for students to learn about organized optometry.

As for the “Year of the Child,” one of my primary goals was to share my passion for pediatric optometry with you and work on specific initiatives to promote the ideals of Kids Welcome Here® that began in Pennsylvania many years ago. Back in May, things started off with a well-attended pediatric continuing education program in State College given by Dr. Jim Spangler, chair of the Pediatric Vision Care Committee, and Dr. Marla Moon. Dr. Spangler also helped gain nationwide exposure for the Kids Welcome Here program at Optometry’s Meeting in Philadelphia by staffing a POA-sponsored booth in the exhibit hall. In early September, the AOA InfantSEE® program featuring Dr. Glen Steele and Tom Sullivan made a stop at PCO. I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to the students as an InfantSEE provider, pediatric optometrist and organization leader. In honor of this event, a Pennsylvania Senate proclamation was introduced by Senator Mike Folmer recognizing the InfantSEE program. Coming up during this month, the POA is very excited to host a six-hour pediatric continuing education program featuring Dr. Christine Allison; Professor of Pediatrics and Binocular Vision at the Illinois College of Optometry, AAO Diplomate in Pediatrics, COVD Board member and nationally recognized speaker, as well as Pennsylvania’s own Drs. Spangler and Grover.

While it’s wonderful to extol our accomplishments, the reality is that some areas still need improvement. Despite the significant efforts of both Dr. Donna Buraczewski and Dr. Greg Caldwell reaching out to our members and working with the AOA staff this year, we were not able to see substantial increases in our AOA-PAC donations. I must pass this continued work on to Dr. Richard Christoph for 2015.

I could not complete my year as president without sending my heartfelt thanks to my fellow 2014 board members: Drs. Owens, Christoph, Margolies, Eiss, Wincek-Bateson, Gray and Evans. No president of any organization could ask for a better team. Despite the hard work and productivity, somehow we managed to enjoy ourselves in the process! A second round of gratitude goes to our amazing POA staff: Deb Blanchard, Ilene Sauertieg and our newest addition, Kelsey Rodkey. Very few states in the nation have such competent and dedicated staff members. Ever since I became an officer of the Central Pennsylvania Optometric Society many years ago, I knew they were wonderful individuals to work with, and my appreciation has only grown stronger with each passing year. This sentiment certainly holds true for Dr. Stuckey, our executive director, especially when one witnesses the significant respect and admiration he has earned from other optometric association executives around the country and the AOA leadership. We are so lucky to have him!

I cannot break the tradition of my editorials, so here is my final ask (I hear many sighs of relief): if at all possible, take a moment to thank any POA member you know who serves in a volunteer leadership position; whether they serve in a local, state or national role or as a committee member. The AOA and POA would not exist without the never-ending dedication of all involved; these individuals spend many evenings and weekends away from family and hours away from their optometric practices. They do what they do for the profession of optometry, the selfless sharing of talent, time and passion that benefits every practicing optometrist. Ultimately, my wish would be to start seeing many new association volunteers who are inspired by these individuals.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your president for 2014; it has definitely been one of the most significant honors of my life. I also thank you for listening to me share so much with you through my editorials. My goal was to not only convey obligatory messages, but also to share a bit of myself in the process. As I pass the torch to Dr. Christoph, I know the association will be in extremely capable hands.

It’s not too early to start working on your New Year’s resolutions for 2015; that bedazzled ball will be dropping in Times Square before you know it!

Marianne Boltz, O.D., F.A.A.O.
POA President

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

InfantSEE®...then and now

So, what do you remember about June 8, 2005? I’d like to say I could remember what outfit I wore, what I had for dinner that evening or what was happening in local or national news that day, but in reality the only thing I remember was the official roll out of the InfantSEE® program! The launch was showcased that morning by a segment on The Today Show with Dr. Scott Jens, InfantSEE chair, and President Jimmy Carter, the “celebrity spokesperson” for the program. His words moved many viewers as he shared the personal story about his grandchild who was diagnosed with amblyopia around age eight and wished it had been detected sooner. Naturally, this prompted him to put his personal stamp of approval on the AOA program and help us spread the word about the importance of early detection of children’s vision and eye health problems.

Of course as a pediatric optometrist, I signed up to participate in the program immediately. It was only my ninth month working at Penn State Hershey Eye Center and I recall the excitement I felt peppered with a bit of anxiety and trepidation about the program. Namely, were the phones going to start ringing non-stop with every parent of a child between six to twelve months of age in the Hershey area calling to schedule an appointment? How was my already hectic schedule going to handle that? Was I going to have to restrict the number of InfantSEE patients I saw each week?

The entire year of 2005 was an exciting one for pediatric optometrists. Our special services were highlighted and so many of us were called upon to help teach our colleagues how to become more comfortable with a basic infant eye exam. I remember the comprehensive continuing education hands-on infant exam workshops that were offered at many colleges of optometry and during the Academy of Optometry meetings. The AOA also provided educational and promotional resources for its members regarding the InfantSEE program. On occasion, I still show the Windows to the World video that was distributed to program participants. Here in Pennsylvania, we were ahead of many states in helping and educating our members due to our long-standing Kids Welcome Here® program, which already promoted a first eye exam at age one.

I read a quote recently by Rachel Donadio, culture correspondent for The New York Times, which really struck a chord with me: “After all, what is life but a continuing negotiation between expectation and reality?” This concept certainly applied to my initial experience with the InfantSEE program. The reality was that I never became overwhelmed with the number of InfantSEE exams I performed and the phone never rang off the hook. I was pleased with the number of infants I was seeing through the program initially, but over time I began to see only a handful of program participants each month. I accept blame for this occurrence, as my motivation to promote InfantSEE lessened slowly over time, as is often the reality for extended programs like this. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that many of you reading this would admit experiencing the same, but it’s not all gloom and doom. In 2013, the national InfantSEE Committee was proud to announce the significant achievement of receiving eye assessment reports for more than 100,000 babies through InfantSEE since the program’s inception. I suspect that many optometrists do not consistently send assessment reports back to the AOA, potentially causing the statistics to be lower than what the reports showed.

Over the last few years, I have heard some fellow POA members question both the continued existence of the program as well as whether InfantSEE is still necessary given the children’s vision benefit becoming part of the Affordable Care Act. Let me set the record straight: yes, the program still exists and yes, it is still necessary! A simple explanation is that even though many more children have insurance coverage for an eye exam, it does not mean that the parents know their infants need to see an optometrist in those early months. I believe the purpose of the InfantSEE program is to emphasize educating the public, with the free exam as an incentive. Of course, a free exam was an important incentive when many did not have eye coverage for their children in 2005. Moving forward in 2014, we need to focus our effort on spreading the important message of early intervention and early detection of eye health and vision disorders in the infant and pre-school population.

On May 18, I attended a pediatric continuing education event in State College cosponsored by Mid-Counties and Northwestern Optometric Societies. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow POA member Dr. Daniel Schott who has a practice site at Cole Memorial Hospital. He shared his story of how pediatricians at this Potter County hospital send their patients to him for an exam as part of their nine-month well-child visits. Dr. Schott’s belief in and dedication to the InfantSEE program provided the incentive to forge this strong relationship with the pediatric physician group. This is the exact type of relationship that the InfantSEE program was intended to develop. What an inspiring story! This arrangement not only promotes quality eye and vision care for infants in his area, but places an optometrist as an important member of the pediatric medical team. Dr. Schott’s story motivated me to create the Keystoner’s InfantSEE success stories section, which features stories from members around the state. You can read about his InfantSEE experience by clicking here. I encourage you to share your InfantSEE success stories with the POA by emailing Kelsey@poaeyes.org.

Finally, I’d like to share exciting news regarding the InfantSEE program. About two years ago, Allergan Foundation generously donated grant funds to Optometry Cares® - The AOA Foundation to increase awareness and promote education of the InfantSEE program within the schools and colleges of optometry. A two-part program was developed; one part focused on educating students at optometry schools around the country and the second part focused on educating community members and leaders. Both programs feature Tom Sullivan, the well-known author, actor, singer, composer and motivational speaker. His personal story serves as not only an inspiring tale about how an individual can overcome physical challenges, but also demonstrates the importance of early eye care for all children. This program will be coming to Salus University (PCO) on September 5-6 and I’m excited to have an opportunity to speak to the students during the event as an InfantSEE provider, pediatric specialist and POA leader. 

As is my editorial tradition, I will leave you with one final ask: if you are one of the 7,500 nationwide optometrists that signed up and participated in the InfantSEE over the past 9 years, I ask that you continue to spread the message and challenge yourself to see a few more babies each month. Remember, this is not only a benefit to each infant and his or her family, but you can also reap the benefits of adding at least one life-long patient, as well as the rest of the family, to your practice! If you are a recent grad, new member of the AOA/POA or just never got around to signing up for the program in the past, this is your opportunity. Visit InfantSEE.org to sign up. Carpe diem. It’s one more way that you can help our goal of making 2014 the “Year of the Child!”

Marianne Boltz, O.D., F.A.A.O.
POA President