American Optometric Association Board of Trustees Redefines Optometry

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ST. LOUIS, Mo.—The American Optometric Association Board of Trustees has updated its definition of optometry to include the word “independent.” In the AOA’s new definition, the word “independent” does not imply ownership or management of an independent practice. Instead, it aligns itself with the term “independent practitioner” as defined by the handbook of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to indicate an individual who can practice without supervision or direction. More specifically, the term “independent practitioner” in the VA handbook 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).

The new definition reads: “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.”

This change supports and aligns with the definition used by the Joint Commission, the VA, the U.S. military, and the AOA’s Optometric Clinical Practice Guidelines. 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.”