Optometric assistants aide the optometrist (O.D.) and medical team in a variety of daily duties, including gathering patient history and performing ocular tests.
With the advent of managed care into medicine, O.D.s examine more patients than ever. They are also required to see more patients to keep up with managed care demands and to boost their sagging bottom lines caused by decreased insurance payments. To keep up with the increased office traffic, more O.D.s are turning to their office staff to perform duties only they had handled previously.
An optometric assistant is the first medical staff member the patient meets. Assistants play a critical role in determining the patient's medical problem through recording a detailed patient history and a patient lifestyle questionnaire. During this interview, the assistant will discuss the reason the patient is being examined and any visual difficulties. The assistant makes detailed notes to pass on to the O.D. to help in the diagnosis.
More skilled assistants, called technicians or paraoptometrics, perform testing and other procedures. These include retinal photography, blood pressure readings, automated lensometry, automated perimetry, acuities, and corneal topography. High-tech equipment now allows technicians to perform refractions, although these measurements are usually checked by the physician. The technician also may perform pre-testing for contact lenses, although with the advances in this technology, many physicians are turning to highly trained contact lens technicians to perform these duties.
Assistants take part in the medical aspects of the practice, but they also handle other duties as well. Assistants perform such tasks as maintaining medical records, keeping medical transcriptions, answering telephones, patient recall, and tracking insurance payments. Larger practices may have specific employees for these duties. In smaller practices, assistants are more likely to handle many duties simultaneously.
Optometrists either work alone in private practices or in group private practice with other O.D.s. Assistants may be required to handle the responsibilities for more than one physician. O.D. offices are located in office buildings, medical parks, storefronts, and shopping malls. O.D.s who work in chain stores usually do not have assistants, but employees from the parent company. Assistants may also work in hospital settings or clinics.
Optometric assistants may work long hours to meet the needs of patients. Doctors now regularly keep evening and weekend hours. Optometric assistants should also be capable of handling stress and many tasks at once. Direct contact with patients, scheduling, and collecting payments require a certain tact.
Education and training
Many assistants receive on-the-job training from other employees or the optometrist. There are certifications available, and a registered optometric assistant is designated by Opt. A., R. The American Optometric Association (AOA) paraoptometric section provides training to optometric assistants. The AOA began certifying paraoptometrics with a new program that instructs assistants on basic optometric terminology, optometric practice operation, anatomy of the eye, and optometric examinations and treatments. Applicants must have a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent and must be able to verify a minimum of six months employment in the eye care field.
Paraoptometric assistant training certification programs are also available through some universities and community colleges. While these training sessions help develop skills, many optometrists hire assistants with no formal training. More highly trained assistants command higher salaries.
Advanced education and training
Optometric assistants may seek more formal training and become certified ophthalmic medical assistants, technicians or technologists. The Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology (JCAHPO) offers certification that enable assistants to perform everything from clinical optics to assisting an ophthalmologist in the operating room. These positions demand much more medical knowledge than optometric assisting. Technicians require a one-year course and technologists must complete a two-year course before being certified.
Ophthalmology— A medical doctor specializing in diseases of the eye and eye surgery.
Optometry— The profession of examining the eye for defects, diseases, or faults of refraction, and prescribing pharmaceuticals, corrective lenses, or exercises to treat these conditions. Optometrists (O.D.s) are trained and licensed to detect and treat ocular symptoms and diseases.
Polycarbonate— A very strong type of plastic often used in safety glasses, sport glasses, and children's eyeglasses. Polycarbonate lenses have approximately 50 times the impact resistance of glass lenses.
Optometric assistants will be more in demand as optometrists seek employees that can perform a number of tasks skillfully in their busy offices. This need will become greater as optometrists continue to add patients to their practices because of managed care. They will require more support personnel to perform testing and run their practices efficiently. The number of open positions for optometric assistants is expected to grow at a fast rate in the coming years. Even more importantly, as the population ages the need for qualified eye care professionals will rise to meet their needs.
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American Association of Medical Assistants. 20 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1575, Chicago, IL 60606-2903. 〈http://www.aama.ntl.org〉.
American Optometric Association Paraoptometric Section. 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO, 63141. (800) 365-2219.
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