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“Teamwork makes the dream work,” eloquently said by author and motivational speaker John Maxwell, fits well with the growing relationships between ophthalmologists and optometrists. This collaboration forms the backbone of true integrated eye care. What are the qualities of a good partnership between ophthalmologists and optometrists? How does it impact the practice of ophthalmic care?

Filling gaps in eye care

As eye care needs among the nation’s aging population continue to increase, the number of ophthalmologists is shrinking. As a result, optometrists are increasingly filling the gap by treating and monitoring eye disease, as well as giving pre-and post-op care—enabling surgeons to spend more time in surgery. 

Since ophthalmologists spend a significant amount of time in surgery, referrals from an outside optometry office are often crucial to drive business for an ophthalmology practice. By bringing optometrists into the fold, an ophthalmology clinic creates its own internal referral base. It also becomes easier for patients to receive the eye care they need from a single practice or location. 

Value of collaboration

When these providers work together to achieve a higher level of care for their mutual patients, it establishes a strong base for complete integrated care. However, this collaboration does not happen overnight. It requires a fair amount of planning. 

Which optometrists are best positioned to support integrated eye care? Those in private practice who co-manage patients; optometrists who partner or lease space with ophthalmologists; and those who practice in a vertically-integrated setting, which includes a ophthalmology clinic, optometry services, and an optical shop. 

Essential to success 

Success hinges on the level of collaboration and precision of communication between the ophthalmologist and optometrist throughout the patient’s eye care journey. It’s important to understand the role of each provider and staff member from beginning to end of this journey. 

For example, consider a patient being referred for cataract surgery who also has other ocular disease. Providers need to determine who will be responsible for which phases of treatment and who will be responsible for monitoring the patient’s progress. If an optometrist takes on the task of providing education about intraocular lens (IOL) options, it’s critical they be aware of the latest implants and their success rates. Providers and staff need to understand their respective responsibilities and also need to ensure the patient clearly understands the division of responsibilities. 

The right health IT makes it happen

When ophthalmologists and optometrists share patients in an integrated care setting, it’s important to work with health IT solutions that support integration. For example, if your ophthalmology practice is participating in an integrated eye care model, you should be able to use your EHR to document when an optometrist is co-managing care of a patient as compared to providing a simple referral. 

Robust reporting and analytics capabilities are also important to the long-term success of integrated care, especially when eye care practices merge to expand services. These capabilities help providers and staff understand what works from an operational and financial perspective. 

Solutions for internal and external collaboration

To achieve more effective patient care, optometrists and ophthalmologists must continue to build strong professional relationships—whether they’re part of the same practice or separate organizations.

Whether collaboration between an ophthalmologist and optometrist takes place within a practice—whether in the same or different locations—an integrated EHR platform is essential to foster accurate communication between the two disciplines. With an integrated database, departments inside an ophthalmic practice can exchange patient information seamlessly and effectively manage the workflow. 

Health IT technology can also help foster collaboration if ophthalmologist and optometrist are part of separate practices. An interoperability solution integrated with the EHR allows exchange of ophthalmic-specific patient data across disparate platforms. 

Integrated eye care largely depends on technology solutions that sustain a seamless interaction between ophthalmologists and optometrists. What is the most important feature of this technology? It must support the precise communication demanded in eye care.

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Kristi Bolinger

Director, Specialty Solutions