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AOA board approves updated definition of optometry

September 21, 2012

The AOA Board of Trustees announced its decision to approve an updated definition of optometry to include the word “independent.” This change supports and aligns with the definition used by the Joint Commission, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. military, and the AOA’s Optometric Clinical Practice Guidelines.

The wording of the definition is now as follows:
Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.

“For obvious reasons, it is important to secure and protect the independence of the practice of optometry, not just in the VA, but profession-wide as well,” said AOA President-Elect Mitch Munson, O.D.

Several years ago, the section chiefs from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, VA and Indian Health Service inquired about a review of the AOA definition of optometrist and the possibility of inserting the word “independent.”

Armed Forces Optometric Society President-Elect Aly Wasik, O.D., who is also a member of the AOA Federal Relations Committee, serves as a liaison between the section chiefs and the AOA in passing along their concerns.

The VA’s Credentialing and Privileging Handbook makes specific reference to a practitioner’s ability to operate independently in their system.

As defined in the VA handbook, the term “independent practitioner” is any individual permitted by law (the statute that defines the terms and conditions of the practitioner’s license) and the facility to provide patient care services independently; i.e., without supervision or direction, within the scope of the individual’s license and in accordance with individually granted clinical privileges. This is also referred to as a licensed independent practitioner (LIP).

Of note, only LIPs may be granted clinical privileges where “clinical privileging” is defined as the process by which a practitioner, licensed for independent practice (i.e., without supervision, direction, required sponsor, preceptor, mandatory collaboration, etc.), is permitted by law and the facility to practice independently, to provide specified medical or other patient care services within the scope of the individual’s license, based on the individual’s clinical competence as determined by peer references, professional experience, health status, education, training, and licensure. Clinical privileges must be facility-specific and provider-specific.

“The AOA Project Team considered the issue very carefully and agreed that the definition change was appropriate and necessary for the continued autonomy and independence of both our colleagues in federal service and in the private sector,” said Dr. Munson.

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