So, what do you remember about June 8, 2005? I’d like to say I could remember what outfit I wore, what I had for dinner that evening or what was happening in local or national news that day, but in reality the only thing I remember was the official roll out of the InfantSEE® program! The launch was showcased that morning by a segment on The Today Show with Dr. Scott Jens, InfantSEE chair, and President Jimmy Carter, the “celebrity spokesperson” for the program. His words moved many viewers as he shared the personal story about his grandchild who was diagnosed with amblyopia around age eight and wished it had been detected sooner. Naturally, this prompted him to put his personal stamp of approval on the AOA program and help us spread the word about the importance of early detection of children’s vision and eye health problems.
Of course as a pediatric optometrist, I signed up to participate in the program immediately. It was only my ninth month working at Penn State Hershey Eye Center and I recall the excitement I felt peppered with a bit of anxiety and trepidation about the program. Namely, were the phones going to start ringing non-stop with every parent of a child between six to twelve months of age in the Hershey area calling to schedule an appointment? How was my already hectic schedule going to handle that? Was I going to have to restrict the number of InfantSEE patients I saw each week?
The entire year of 2005 was an exciting one for pediatric optometrists. Our special services were highlighted and so many of us were called upon to help teach our colleagues how to become more comfortable with a basic infant eye exam. I remember the comprehensive continuing education hands-on infant exam workshops that were offered at many colleges of optometry and during the Academy of Optometry meetings. The AOA also provided educational and promotional resources for its members regarding the InfantSEE program. On occasion, I still show the Windows to the World video that was distributed to program participants. Here in Pennsylvania, we were ahead of many states in helping and educating our members due to our long-standing Kids Welcome Here® program, which already promoted a first eye exam at age one.
I read a quote recently by Rachel Donadio, culture correspondent for The New York Times, which really struck a chord with me: “After all, what is life but a continuing negotiation between expectation and reality?” This concept certainly applied to my initial experience with the InfantSEE program. The reality was that I never became overwhelmed with the number of InfantSEE exams I performed and the phone never rang off the hook. I was pleased with the number of infants I was seeing through the program initially, but over time I began to see only a handful of program participants each month. I accept blame for this occurrence, as my motivation to promote InfantSEE lessened slowly over time, as is often the reality for extended programs like this. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that many of you reading this would admit experiencing the same, but it’s not all gloom and doom. In 2013, the national InfantSEE Committee was proud to announce the significant achievement of receiving eye assessment reports for more than 100,000 babies through InfantSEE since the program’s inception. I suspect that many optometrists do not consistently send assessment reports back to the AOA, potentially causing the statistics to be lower than what the reports showed.
Over the last few years, I have heard some fellow POA members question both the continued existence of the program as well as whether InfantSEE is still necessary given the children’s vision benefit becoming part of the Affordable Care Act. Let me set the record straight: yes, the program still exists and yes, it is still necessary! A simple explanation is that even though many more children have insurance coverage for an eye exam, it does not mean that the parents know their infants need to see an optometrist in those early months. I believe the purpose of the InfantSEE program is to emphasize educating the public, with the free exam as an incentive. Of course, a free exam was an important incentive when many did not have eye coverage for their children in 2005. Moving forward in 2014, we need to focus our effort on spreading the important message of early intervention and early detection of eye health and vision disorders in the infant and pre-school population.
On May 18, I attended a pediatric continuing education event in State College cosponsored by Mid-Counties and Northwestern Optometric Societies. While there, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow POA member Dr. Daniel Schott who has a practice site at Cole Memorial Hospital. He shared his story of how pediatricians at this Potter County hospital send their patients to him for an exam as part of their nine-month well-child visits. Dr. Schott’s belief in and dedication to the InfantSEE program provided the incentive to forge this strong relationship with the pediatric physician group. This is the exact type of relationship that the InfantSEE program was intended to develop. What an inspiring story! This arrangement not only promotes quality eye and vision care for infants in his area, but places an optometrist as an important member of the pediatric medical team. Dr. Schott’s story motivated me to create the Keystoner’s InfantSEE success stories section, which features stories from members around the state. You can read about his InfantSEE experience by clicking here. I encourage you to share your InfantSEE success stories with the POA by emailing Kelsey@poaeyes.org.
Finally, I’d like to share exciting news regarding the InfantSEE program. About two years ago, Allergan Foundation generously donated grant funds to Optometry Cares® - The AOA Foundation to increase awareness and promote education of the InfantSEE program within the schools and colleges of optometry. A two-part program was developed; one part focused on educating students at optometry schools around the country and the second part focused on educating community members and leaders. Both programs feature Tom Sullivan, the well-known author, actor, singer, composer and motivational speaker. His personal story serves as not only an inspiring tale about how an individual can overcome physical challenges, but also demonstrates the importance of early eye care for all children. This program will be coming to Salus University (PCO) on September 5-6 and I’m excited to have an opportunity to speak to the students during the event as an InfantSEE provider, pediatric specialist and POA leader.
As is my editorial tradition, I will leave you with one final ask: if you are one of the 7,500 nationwide optometrists that signed up and participated in the InfantSEE over the past 9 years, I ask that you continue to spread the message and challenge yourself to see a few more babies each month. Remember, this is not only a benefit to each infant and his or her family, but you can also reap the benefits of adding at least one life-long patient, as well as the rest of the family, to your practice! If you are a recent grad, new member of the AOA/POA or just never got around to signing up for the program in the past, this is your opportunity. Visit InfantSEE.org to sign up. Carpe diem. It’s one more way that you can help our goal of making 2014 the “Year of the Child!”
Marianne Boltz, O.D., F.A.A.O.