It's more than just making glasses
All opticians in British Columbia are required to be registered with the College of Opticians of BC, the governing body responsible for making sure opticians adhere to standards, rules and regulations - in short, serving the interests of the public.
The Dispensing Opticians Association of BC, a separate body, exists to serve the interests of opticians. Membership is optional, although you would think that most opticians would want to be a part of it.
You'd be wrong, though. There are about 1200 opticians in BC, but fewer than 600 are members of the DOABC. That's less than half.
And at the Annual General Meeting, it is rare to see more than forty people in the room. It's usually the same bunch of people, too. I am usually the youngest person there, with the exception of the most recent meeting last Sunday, where I saw two women from the college program I took before I became an optician.
Opticians have been largely apathetic towards the DOABC for the past few years, and membership is dangerously low. In every AGM I've been to, the discussion is less about what the DOABC has done in the past year and what it's goals are, than it is about the lack of members and what we should do to turn things around. And we don't seem to be getting anywhere.
There are several theories about this apathy. The most popular one is that many opticians don't think the DOABC is doing anything worthwhile on their behalf, and they don't see the point of becoming a member. What they don't seem to realize, or care about, is that the organization will be ineffective if we don't acquire more members. Catch-22, anyone? Meanwhile, non-members are benefitting from the hard work of the DOABC board members, and they're not the ones paying for those benefits. Not exactly fair.
But I have another theory - I believe some opticians don't feel compelled to join the organization because they know others will. It's kind of like a theory I read about when I was taking Psychology at UBC. I can't recall the official name of it, but it's sometimes called the "Bystander Effect." When a group of people witness someone in distress, many of them will make no attempt to assist, apparently because they're sure someone else will do it first. But if everyone behaved this way, it could result in serious consequences.
I'm not saying I'm immune to the Bystander Effect myself. I haven't bothered to vote in the last two national elections, for example. I thought to myself, a lot of other people are voting, and surely the Liberals will win with or without my help, and they did. However, the candidate in my riding who I would have voted for won by only the slimmest of margins.
The point is, sometimes every vote does indeed count. Every voice, no matter how insignificant you might think it is, makes a difference. The difficult part is getting more people to realize that.
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Aside from the lack of membership issue, the other recurring theme that is often brought up at the AGM is the conflict with optometrists. For those of you who don't know the difference between the two, an optometrist is a doctor who examines the general health of your eyes, diagnoses conditions or diseases and refers you to a specialist if necessary, and supplies you with a spectacle prescription should you require it. An optician is a technician who fills the spectacle prescription by making recommendations for frames and lenses, supplying the eyglasses either by grinding the lenses on the premises or by sending them off to an outside lab, and doing the necessary fitting and adjustment afterwards.
There are still occasions when opticians run into difficulty trying to get patients' prescriptions from optometrists, even though optometrists are obligated to release them. And when a prescription is written out for a patient to take where he/she pleases, the form will often have disclaimers written on them, such as:
- Valid for one year only.
- Not to be used for contact lenses.
- This prescription should not be filled unless it is agreed that modifications to the prescription will be filled at no additional cost. (i.e. If the patient cannot adapt to the prescription and goes back to the optometrist for a re-check, and the optometrist modifies the prescription to the patient's satisfaction, the optician who filled it has to supply new lenses at no charge.)
One recent source of dispute between the two sides is sight testing. There are some opticians in the province who have computerized equipment that will test a patient's vision and supply a spectacle prescription. Once the test results are verified by an ophthalmologist, the prescription may be filled by the optician. However, no one, not even opticians, is claiming that sight testing is a substitute for a complete eye exam. It cannot determine the health of your eyes. It is simply a way to supply a patient with glasses, quickly and conveniently. Optometrists oppose the idea, because they fear patients will not bother with a complete eye exam if they just want glasses, and that's not the patient's best interest. In addition, if more and more patients turn to sight testing, it takes away optometrists' main source of revenue.
Being in the unusual position of an optician who works for an optometrist, I get to see both sides of the fence. There are some issues on which I side with the opticians' point of view, and others on which I can understand arguments on both sides.
For example, I personally don't think a prescription form should have any of the above disclaimers on it. Valid for one year only? If the Medical Services Plan paid for eye exams once a year instead of once every two years, that would be fine. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Not to be used for contact lenses? Why not? Opticians who are licensed contact lens fitters are completely qualified to determine the correct contact lens power based on a spectacle prescription. Agree to prescription modifications at no additional cost? Why should an optician have to pay for an optometrist's modifications?
Sight testing, however, is a more contentious issue. On the one hand, I agree with opticians who say they need to be able to offer more services to the patient in order to remain competitive. On the other hand, I think it would be too easy for patients to forgo regular eye exams in favor of simply getting their sight tested, even if opticians make them aware of the difference.
I have some mixed feelings, so it's difficult for me to be an advocate either way. For the most part, though, I think it's a good thing to be able to see both perspectives. That's the way I feel about most things up for debate. I would suck at politics because of the way I am, but hopefully I'm a more tolerant and well-rounded person because of it.
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