When most people think of optometrists, they imagine a private practice with an OD performing eye examinations and helping patients with vision problems. In fact, if you asked most people, “do optometrists work in hospitals?” the common answer would most likely be “no.”
This may change very soon, however. The position of hospital optometrist is starting to be more commonplace as many healthcare facilities recognize the value of providing optometric services in hospitals. In fact, as the healthcare system in the US evolves and patients demand more cost-effective care, hospital optometry may become more routine and the role of optometrist in a hospital may grow.
Over the past few decades, there has been a concerted effort at hospitals to offer more integrated care while consolidating resources to cut expenses. Hospitals and healthcare systems don’t necessarily have to establish their own eye clinic or vision center to provide the services of a hospital eye specialist.
Simply extending hospital privileges to an OD enables the hospital to deliver efficient optometric services. Having an OD on premises to serve patients suffering from eye-related symptoms during their hospitalization or to examine individuals with vision-related complications is very practical from an integrated care standpoint, which is why the number of ODs with hospital privileges grew 9.8% in 2004 to 13.1% in 2008.
Extending privileges to ODs expands optometric services in hospitals, but the relationship is far from one-sided. For the hospital optometrist, these privileges offer access to better lab and diagnostic testing capabilities, contact with possible mentors and mentees, and countless networking and referral opportunities.
In addition to the practice-building potential hospital privileges provide, exposure to unique cases and specializations can be just as beneficial. Hospital optometrists see patients with a wider range of vision disorders and eye conditions than ODs in private practice, gaining valuable experience and greater insight into an individual’s overall health and the impact of holistic patient care in diagnosing and treating various conditions.
In many ways, taking on the role of optometrist in a hospital setting can be comparable to accepting a second full-time position. Depending upon your privilege level—whether active staff, consulting, courtesy, or allied health—the hospital’s bylaws may require that you live nearby and attend a certain amount of staff meetings. For owners of solo practices, it can be difficult to manage the day-to-day operations while also honoring their commitment as a hospital specialist and avoiding burnout.
However, the benefits of attaining hospital privileges far outweigh any negatives. The designation opens up many great opportunities to advance medicine by contributing to multidisciplinary healthcare teams, participating in cutting-edge research, serving as a clinical instructor for the hospital’s residency program, and providing direct care to low-income patients in an outpatient eye clinic or vision center.
Do optometrists work in hospitals? Yes, and their contributions to hospital optometry and integrated care are invaluable.