Karpecki Persico  
Two competing shoe salesmen were sent to a remote island in the Pacific to look for new customers, as they had exhausted sales opportunities on the mainland. Upon arriving, both discovered that shoes were unknown to the indigenous people. The first salesman immediately called his boss and lamented, “There is no opportunity on this island, as the natives don’t wear shoes.” A few minutes later, the second salesman called his office and enthusiastically exclaimed, “We have an incredible opportunity, boss—the natives don’t wear shoes!”

Keep that parable in mind when you hear the statistic that, for every 100 patients seen by an optometrist, only five drug prescriptions are written. One can look at this and say optometry lacks engagement in therapeutic eye care. But we see this as a great opportunity. So do the pharmaceutical companies.

Without diminishing the importance of their core customers in ophthalmology, major industry players have been courting optometry with increasing fervor in recent years, and it will only continue. The trends are simply too inexorable to ignore. Growth in the need for primary eye care outpaces the ability of ophthalmologists to provide it, all but requiring optometry to play a larger role. Even the American Academy of Ophthalmology is coming around, having recently announced a joint effort with the Academy of Optometry to work together more closely.

With ophthalmology receptive to partnership and the pharma industry invested in your success, the optometry profession has an unprecedented opportunity—some might say obligation—over the next few years to become the true gatekeepers of eye care, providing or guiding patient care for everything from contact lenses and ocular surface disease to AMD diagnosis, cataract surgery comanagement, consultation on systemic conditions like diabetes with ocular manifestations—and everything in between. Add in lifestyle/aesthetic choices like Google Glass or fashion frames and the optometrist truly holds a position of dominance in everything that concerns the eye.

Once recognized in this role, the profession can better chart its own future, diminishing the influence of insurance companies, legislatures and other professions.

Stay Connected
It’s easier than it may seem. Being central means being connected. Get to know the best ophthalmic surgeons, rheumatologists, neurologists, endocrinologists and other specialists in your area, and co-manage or send patients to them with a referral letter. The ACA will require that these specialists have a referral letter in the patient’s records and will start working closely with optometrists who write to them.

Guide your patients to the appropriate doctor, as you ultimately will have a much greater knowledge of which surgeons and physicians are better than your patient would—and have your front desk book the appointment for them.

And don’t overlook the connections you’ve cultivated among your colleagues. The spirit of camaraderie is especially strong in optometry; there’s a collegial tone to this profession that is a profound, untapped strength. If greater diagnostic and therapeutic knowledge is what you need, reach out for guidance to colleagues who do well in this area.

If getting on a medical panel is an issue, or well-funded corporate chains are making it hard to compete on prices, join together with other ODs to level the playing field, as many of the professional alliance groups allow you to do (see the overview of such organizations on page 58 of this issue).

The Power of the Pen
All it takes are small steps to have a significant positive impact. Most ODs who have embarked on the medical model say their optical and contact lens practices have grown substantially, rather than languish.

Be like the upbeat salesman in the parable who embraces opportunity. Optometry is actually the fastest growing category of prescribing professionals in all of medicine. Once you capitalize on the power of the prescription pen, you’ll gain more control over your own destiny—and your patients’ care, convenience and satisfaction will all increase. While other doctors wring their hands about their futures, yours is ready to be written.