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  • How You Can Get Involved in Advocacy

    My friends from residency training often ask me: “How do I get involved in advocacy?”

    They heard about the Academy’s Advocacy Ambassador Program at the Mid-Year Forum in Washington, D.C.

    The program brings together program participants with congressional lawmakers and leaders in ophthalmology to discuss critical issues affecting medicine. By sponsoring their attendance at the forum, the Academy trains residents and fellows to become effective advocates for their profession, both on the state and federal levels.

    The program can’t sponsor all residents and fellows who apply to attend the Mid-Year Forum. But there’s no reason to feel left out or intimidated by the idea of advocacy. Every day as we care for our patients, we advocate for our patients and our ability to protect sight.

    Have you ever called a pharmacy on behalf of a patient to make sure the drug you prescribed is sold at the best price, or even available?

    Have you ever talked to your patient about what the training difference is between you and the optometrist who referred them to you?

    Have you ever contacted an insurance company to fight for coverage of a procedure or study a patient needs?

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you are an advocate.

    Advocating for ophthalmology means standing up for your patient in the face of opposition from insurance companies, pharmacies, proposed federal and state legislation, Medicare and Medicaid changes and health care regulation.

    For my friends and colleagues who are new to the process of advocating, I recommend three simple steps to become more involved:

    For those YOs who are already advocating for ophthalmology, but would like to become more engaged in state-level advocacy, I encourage you to consider becoming involved with the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Secretariat for State Affairs.

    The Secretariat is composed of two committees of ophthalmologists – the committee for state organizational development and the committee for state governmental affairs. They volunteer their time and energy to advocate for our patients and profession on the state level. When there is an optometric expansion of scope bill introduced in an individual state, for example, it is the Secretariat for State Affairs that helps organize local ophthalmologists to fight against the bill.

    As chair of the Academy’s YO Advocacy Subcommittee, I recently attended the Secretariat for State Affairs meeting in July in Rosemont, Ill. and learned more about what the AAO is doing to protect my ability to care for my patients. At the meeting, Keith Carter, MD, AAO president, spoke about the importance of YOs getting involved in advocacy on the state level.

    Additionally, the Secretariat considered how the analysis of big data from the Academy’s IRIS Registry or from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) could be useful in identifying the practice behaviors of optometrists in states where optometrists were successful in passing legislation giving them the ability to perform laser and incisional surgery.

    Committee members with the Surgical Scope Fund (SSF) were also at the meeting. The fund sends money to states that are battling an optometric scope bill. Donations to the SSF are completely confidential. Money from the SSF is used to pay for public education campaigns against the bill as well as lobbyists.

    During breakout sessions at the Secretariat meeting, we generated ideas about how to engage all ophthalmologists, including YOs, to increase donations. Each year, the number of scope battles increases, which unfortunately have become very expensive to fight. But the alternative to fighting against scope of practice expansion is to put our patients’ vision at risk. With enough support, we can start being proactive instead of being reactive in our advocacy efforts.

    As ophthalmologists, we are incredibly honored to care for the vision of the public. Our long and rigorous training matters. We are also incredibly fortunate to have dedicated colleagues who, through their advocacy efforts, volunteer their time to protect sight outside of the clinic.

    But we need more of our colleagues to join in! If you are interested in becoming more involved, please consider participating in the SSF with donations of your money or your time.

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    About the author: Lindsay A. Rhodes, MD, is a glaucoma specialist in Birmingham, Ala. She chairs the Academy’s YO Advocacy subcommittee.