Discuss Bio-Ethical Issues in the Ethics Forum

By Thomas A. Wong, OD

Feb. 15, 2017

Eyecare professionals live and practice in the most connected generation in history. Social media, mobile applications and smartphones provide powerful and effective tools to engage both our patients and communities. They also provide opportunities to educate patients and enhance their understanding of eye health issues.

All good.

However, as both the world and the practice of optometry grow and evolve, we must not lose sight of HIPAA and privacy concerns.

The fundamental ethics of the optometrist-patient relationship remain constant and integral to improving outcomes, even as our knowledge of optometry and medicine changes. The following are examples of clinical changes.

Over the last few decades, we have learned that corneal thickness is not only a major factor in measuring a patient’s IOP, but it is an independent risk factor for glaucoma.  Twenty years ago, we patched most patients with corneal abrasions, and today we know that is not only sometimes unnecessary, but often contraindicated.

So much of how we practiced in the past has radically changed with new evidence-based research guiding us to better medical outcomes. However, the optometrist-patient relationship is rooted in the important discipline of bioethics that each optometrist or physician needs to understand and embrace.

In caring for our patients, there are important guidelines we must follow to preserve patient privacy—as well as face real and serious consequences if we fail to understand and adhere to those guidelines. Financial penalties can be substantial for optometrists in any mode of practice. Creating important checks and balances to maintain patient privacy are not only for those ODs in large institutions, but those in private practice, as well.

Fortunately, optometry is a profession where we face challenges together, and share insights and strategies.

The American Optometric Association has formed a committee on ethics, and I am proud to serve on it, alongside chair Doug Totten, OD, Morris Berman, OD, and Robert Moses, OD. We host the AOA’s Ethics Forum, which presents and discusses hypothetical case studies that relate Bioethics to real world issues that eyecare professionals face today. We examine such issues as vision and driving, social media, mobile phone interruptions, informed consent, and balancing ethics with the economics of running a modern optometric practice.

Click HERE for more information about AOA Ethics Forum.

You can utilize the AOA Ethics Forum to become educated on case studies relevant to modern optometric practice, and to seek advice from the AOA Ethics committee regarding ethical dilemmas that you may face in your practice.

Our work is ongoing and ever-evolving. I urge fellow optometrists to:

Utilize the Ethics Forum. Pose questions on cases pertinent to their practice–and furthering discussion in a secure environment.

Mind HIPAA. Be HIPAA-compliant in any exchange of information.

Take Responsibility. Be responsible and objective imparting any medical recommendations in or out of office

Be a good manager. Be proactive in training and monitoring staff engagement with patients

Use social media wisely. Keep in mind that everything posted will soon become public knowledge.

Upcoming Hackathon Event at AOA Optometry’s Meeting
Optometry is not alone in meeting our challenges. At AOA Optometry’s Meeting 2017 in Washington. D.C., the SUNY Optometry New Technologies Unit will host the Inter-Professional Hackathon: A Collaboration with the Nursing Profession. Our goal is to design a patient education application to inter-professionally educate patients and parents on the important roles of vision and hearing in the learning process: Attendance is limited. Details to follow.



Thomas A. Wong, OD, is Director of New Technologies at the SUNY College of Optometry. Contact him at







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