Setting Sights on Creating Change

A new optometric think tank is poised to effect change in Washington.

By Christopher J. Quinn, OD

If there is one certainty in optometry today, it is the limitless opportunities we have to continue to transform our profession. We will face many hurdles to accomplish our goals–challenges that I am energized to take on, together with each and every doctor and student of optometry, in my role as President of the American Optometric Association (AOA). The AOA and all its affiliates take every opportunity to defy the status quo and push to expand optometric scope of practice and our ability to deliver the best in primary eye health and vision care for Americans.

Advocacy is the key to that expansion, and we work at it every day. In our collective efforts, we use every tool we can, from our education and skills to our multisector relationships and influence, to push the envelope and succeed. This year we added a new instrument to our arsenal: the AOA’s Health Policy Institute (HPI). Many of us know the facts and understand the implications of changing policy and governance, but with the HPI we now have a structure to analyze trends, weigh evidence, and map out policy decisions that will affect the value of the health care services we provide and the way we deliver high-value care to patients.

We are not the first professional association to establish a think tank inside the Washington beltway, but we instantly filled a void by establishing the HPI as the leader in eye health and vision care policy. On its own, optometry may seem to be a small profession, but we deliver more than two-thirds of the primary eye health care in America. By bringing experts together from inside and outside of the profession, we can work judiciously to assess information and evidence and use that insight to guide policy development. This will help provide direction for decision-making and allow us to create tools to implement policies that will enhance access to care and support the breadth of our advocacy efforts at the national and state levels, from scope to education to the direction and impact of future technologies on patient care.

Through this expanded focus, the HPI will provide perspectives and insights that will prove beneficial for ophthalmic practice and the greater house of medicine. As the voice of optometry, the AOA has a large and influential position in the world of eye care, but HPI will enable us to make our voices heard in the broader health policy realm and to drive positive results for our members and, more important, our patients.

To win in Washington and in state capitals around the country, we need this credible institution and voice to provide more information to the public and policymakers about eye health and vision care and how policies can affect access, cost, delivery, and outcomes of those services. Our academic institutions focus more on clinical research than policy research. The HPI is a scalpel that we can use to target key topics quickly and get meaningful results as we set our sights on the progress sought by our profession, our patients, and the public at large.

We anticipate tackling a wide range of issues with the HPI. Already, we have asserted positions regarding access to care, children’s vision, Medicare Advantage rules, and optometry’s role in disaster relief. I am excited to report that, with the constant change in our health care governance and system, you can anticipate much more coming through the HPI pipeline.

The AOA already punches above its weight in the health law and policy battles in Washington and state capitals. The AOA’s HPI will further advance our efforts and support our advocacy goals and priorities. It will be a vital force to support our continued efforts in the increasingly turbulent world of health care policy.

To learn more about the briefs that the HPI has put forth to date, or for more information, visit

Christopher J. Quinn, OD
• President, American Optometric Association; adjunct faculty, Pennsylvania College of Optometry, State University of New York, New England College of Optometry, University of California at Berkeley, and Ohio State University
• Owner and president, Omni Eye Services, multiple locations in New Jersey