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Advocating for patients—both in and out of the exam room

Dear Colleagues,

As Contact Lens Health Week begins, I've been reflecting on the pleasures and privileges of being an optometrist.

I personally recall a 9-year-old patient of mine who had broken his glasses on the baseball field – for the third time. His parents were frustrated, as each time their son’s glasses broke, they had to purchase a new pair, then wait for them to arrive.

They worried he could get hurt the next time his glasses broke, and feared wearing glasses was hindering his ability to play sports.



So we talked about contact lenses.

I explained the importance of good lens care and showed the boy and his parents how to handle the lenses. I walked the family through the process of getting adjusted to contacts, maintaining good eye health and being alert for symptoms of a problem. It was a lengthy conversation -- longer than my typical appointments-- but it was important. In fact, it was one of the most fulfilling parts of my week.

As optometrists, we show patients how contact lenses can improve the quality of their lives. But too often, patients do not ask their eye doctors about contact lenses, so it’s up to us to broach the topic with patients.

It’s also our responsibility to instruct patients on properly caring for contact lenses-- and explain the risks. Our commitment to patient health extends outside the exam room. One of the best ways we can ensure the safeguarding of our patients’ health is by engaging with the Food and Drug Administration’s Medwatch program database, also known as MAUDE. When a doctor reports an adverse effect -- whether mild or severe—it is logged in the database. The data is used by the FDA to ensure medical devices like contact lenses stay safe for patient use, and helps amplify the importance of eye health with policymakers and regulators in Washington D.C.

There’s one more key way we can help our patients: advocating for better eye health policy.

The fact is, no one better understands our patients’ needs, and their eye health, better than we do. By writing letters, speaking with lawmakers and even testifying on Capitol Hill, we can help align policy with good eye care.

As for my young baseball player, I’m happy to report that his contact lenses were a home run. At his follow-up appointment, he shared that while it still took him 20 or 30 minutes to insert his lenses, the process got easier each time, especially as his parents had worked out a system to be sure he cleaned and stored the lenses properly. The boy had played a couple baseball games since we had last met, and was thrilled to be able to focus on the game without worrying his glasses would get broken.

It’s stories like these that inspire me during Contact Lens Health Week-- and remind me of the importance of looking out for our patients, both in and out of the exam room.