Is Paraoptometric Certification the Right Choice for Your Practice?

Is Paraoptometric Certification the Right Choice for Your Practice?

Is obtaining paraoptometric certification beneficial for your practice? Would it attract more patients and garner respect for your practice? Or is the certification of technicians not worth the effort? Are your optometric technicians currently certified? If not, should they be? Many private practitioners, as well as the technicians themselves, argue that paraoptometric certification offers numerous advantages. They believe it enhances patient care, increases patients’ respect for your practice, fosters employee loyalty, and reduces turnover. In many practices, optometric technicians shoulder a wide range of responsibilities, including pretesting, visual field testing, retinal photography and imaging, frame and lens selection, adjustments, contact lens insertion and removal instructions, front office management, and the triaging of eye emergencies.

Considering the magnitude of their roles, shouldn’t they possess some form of formal endorsement or qualification? On the other hand, some practitioners question the need for certification if they have already provided comprehensive in-house training. They wonder why they should go through the hoops to obtain a designation that adds little more than a stamp of approval. Furthermore, they contemplate the rationale behind encouraging or subsidizing the expense of training a technician who might eventually leave for a higher-paying job at another practice. Let’s delve into both perspectives of this often overlooked but crucial matter.

Practicing without “Paras” Despite the availability of paraoptometric certification, some optometrists have discovered that the extensive in-house training they provide for newly hired technicians and doctor’s assistants is sufficient. An Optometrist in Columbus, Ohio, relies on non-certified optometric assistants and opticians to scribe and perform pretesting. He mentions that most new technicians in his two practices usually start with scribing before progressing to pre-exam tasks, and currently, none of his staff members hold paraoptometric certification. Why do they choose not to pursue certification? Most staff members do not view it as a necessary step to be productive in their field. They believe that on-the-job training combined with professional experience are the keys to success and feeling competent. Other optometrists, previously had opticians or the doctors themselves perform pretesting.

It was only recently that they found it necessary to hire a doctor’s assistant. However, they have not yet made paraoptometric certification a requirement for the optometric assistant. As the workload increased, the opticians had to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, and a concern arose about maintaining the smooth continuity of care that patients deserve while keeping my team focused. Consequently, they hired a doctor’s assistant to handle patient check-ins, address any inquiries patients may have, and perform pretesting. Subsequently, the doctor’s assistant ensures continuity of care by introducing patients to opticians, checking them out, and executing any orders from the doctor, such as calling in medical prescriptions or ordering trial contacts. The addition of a doctor’s assistant has greatly improved the practice by reducing the doctor’s burden of finding available staff and allowing each team member to provide undivided attention to the person they are assisting.

Optometrists in Easton, MD, have witnessed firsthand the advantages of having certified employees. One notable instance was when his technicians efficiently handled the triage of a patient who called their office on a Saturday, expressing symptoms indicative of a retinal detachment.

The patient was worried about leaving work and coming to the office, as well as the fact that his insurance isn’t accepted. Technicians assisted with the triage and reassured the patient that immediate attention was necessary. They managed to fit him in, and indeed, he was diagnosed with a retinal detachment. The technicians promptly contacted a local retinal specialist who performed immediate treatment, saving the patient’s vision. If it weren’t for knowledgeable technicians who understood the urgency and symptoms of a retinal detachment, this patient might not have received such efficient and appropriate care.

Having certified staff demonstrates to patients that an office is dedicated to providing them with the best care, service, and overall experience. Another benefit is that staff view their work as a career, not just a job.

While it may be challenging to find certified paraoptometric technicians to hire, it is advised that optometrists should not be discouraged from striving for 100% certification in their office. When Paraoptometrics are not abundant in our area, bring in staff members with exceptional service skills and train them on-site. Once they are ready, they register for certification and pass the exams.

Optometrists encourage other optometrists to adopt paraoptometric certification in their practices. Certification emphasizes professionalism, builds patient trust, and enhances an employee’s self-image and confidence. Certification can be a defense against turnover. 

A Paraoptometric Advocate

Tamara Franklin, Chair of the AOA’s Commission for Paraoptometric Certification (CPC), also encourages optometrists to help their staff members attain paraoptometric certification, just as she did herself.

“Paraoptometric certification is a measure that demonstrates optometric staff’s attainment of a standardized level of knowledge to provide patient care,” explains Mrs. Franklin. She further notes that certification necessitates ongoing competency expansion, which is integral to delivering a higher level of patient care.

She believes that certification not only enhances patient care through continuing education but also fosters camaraderie. “Certification creates a learning environment that elevates patient care as a team,” she explains. “My optometrist and I always operated as a team, with a philosophy of delivering the best patient care to all our patients, regardless of their needs. After achieving my Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT) certification, I used it not only for the medical side of the practice but also for further education in low vision and vision therapy.”

Mrs. Franklin asserts that optometrists play a crucial role in helping technicians and assistants realize the benefits of formal certification. “Optometrists often underestimate their influence in this matter. Seeking paraoptometric certification should be important for all optometric staff, as well as all optometric physicians,” she suggests. “I encourage all optometrists to establish a continuing education program for their staff that includes a path to reach the CPOT level, should the employees desire it.”

According to Mrs. Franklin, paraoptometric certification not only promotes excellent patient care but is also beneficial for business. “In our evolving healthcare landscape, paraoptometric certification is more important now than ever before,” she concludes.

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