Paraoptometrics are allied health professionals who assist optometrists in providing their highest level of vision care to patients.
Paraoptometrics are allied health personnel who extend the optometrist's capabilities by assuming routine and technical aspects of vision care services. Paraoptometrics are to optometrists what paralegals are to lawyers.
What tasks does a paraoptometric perform?
Depending upon experience, paraoptometrics perform a variety of duties such as front desk procedures, billing and coding of insurance claims, and patient scheduling. Under the supervision of their employing optometrist, paraoptometrics may also perform more clinical duties such as pre-testing patients, contact lens procedures, and ophthalmic optics and dispensing of eyewear. Front office procedures, chair-side assisting, pre-testing, contact lens instruction, frame styling and fitting, and vision therapy are just a few of the many duties paraoptometrics perform for both patients and staff. As a part of the vision care team, paraoptometrics help build patient confidence while working directly with an optometrist. A majority of optometrists utilize three or more paraoptometrics in the office. Well-trained personnel build an office-patient relationship that is not only invaluable to the optometrist, but also ensures patient satisfaction and quality of services.
What are the levels of certified paraoptometrics?
The Commission on Paraoptometric Certification (CPC) offers a career-ladder certification consisting of three levels of expertise and a separate coding and billing certification for paraoptometrics. The certifications available are Certified Paraoptometric Coder, (CPOC), Certified Paraoptometric (CPO), Certified Paraoptometric Assistant (CPOA), and Certified Paraoptometric Technician (CPOT).
- The CPO typically carries out a wide variety of front desk procedures such as scheduling appointments, recalling patients, handling insurance forms, accepting payments, and screening telephone calls. They may also be trained in the different styles of eyewear, frame repair and adjusting, office materials purchasing and other duties of a non-technical nature.
- Under the supervision of an optometrist, a CPOA may perform technical duties such as taking detailed patient histories, measuring visual acuity, measuring the curvature of the cornea (keratometry), glaucoma screening, blood pressure testing, and measuring the distance between the pupils of the eye.
- A CPOT may be responsible for all of the above as well as ordering prescription eyewear, modifying contact lenses, explaining contact lens care regimens, photographing the interior of the eye, supervising vision therapy and low-vision training and any other duties that the optometrist may delegate.
- A CPOC may be responsible for coding and billing in the optometric practice. Coders are responsible for ensuring that all of the information about diagnoses and procedures for patients is accurate and complete. A certified paraoptometric coder can be the first line of defense against non-compliance and improper coding for the provider.
There are many career opportunities for qualified individuals who can provide valuable service in this field. These opportunities are driven by the increase in the elderly population and the demand for skilled personnel in light of technological advancements. Additionally, this growth is driven by the increase in the number of practices, clinics, and other health care facilities.
Demand for well-trained paraoptometrics is extremely high. Formal training programs regularly boast three or four job openings per graduate. In addition, many optometrists are willing to offer on-the-job training to those individuals who are highly motivated and health-career oriented.
Annual income will vary greatly depending on the size, type and location of the practice. The average paraoptometric works 25-40 hours per week; data show that about one in five survey respondents earn more than $35,000 annually.
Education and training
Paraoptometric training is available through formal education programs or training on the job. Some formal programs offer a two-year program providing education for students to earn an Associate of Science degree (AS), while other programs offer a one-year technical diploma course that can be completed in nine months of full-time study.
The AOA Paraoptometric Section offers many education materials to assist the practice with training and development, as well as, certification examination preparation. The Paraoptometric Section also offers the self-directed Paraoptometric Skill Builder (SM) Online Training Program for Beginner and Intermediate levels of learning. Check out the full line of education products.
In addition to having a minimum of a high school diploma, individuals considering a career as a paraoptometric should consider taking high school/college courses such as algebra, biology, anatomy, English, communication, and psychology. Computer literacy is recommended as well. In addition, applicants should have interest in health care, maturity, good interpersonal skills, and the ability to follow procedures.
Personal advancement, recognition and affiliation
Many paraoptometrics, regardless of their level of training, often attend continuing education seminars to keep their skills current and to maintain a certification designation. Paraoptometrics interested in career advancement and affiliation can join the Paraoptometric Section of the AOA. This national association is organized to promote, advance and enhance the identity of both paraoptometrics and their optometrists. The group also encourages and provides quality continuing education for paraoptometric personnel. Contact PS@aoa.org for more information.
The AOA Commission on Paraoptometric Certification (CPC) offers paraoptometrics the opportunity to be recognized for their level of career knowledge and skill by way of voluntary certification. Nationally accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the CPC offers three progressive levels of testing that enhances career growth opportunities and future advancements.
What is the AOA Paraoptometric Section?
The AOA Paraoptometric Section is the nation’s largest organization serving the needs of optometric assistants and technicians. Its purpose is to offer continuing education opportunities, service recognition, professional development and promotion, and opportunities for its members to be involved with a national professional association. The Paraoptometric Section promotes a health-team concept in the delivery of optometric care and enhances the identity of both the optometrist and the paraoptometric. Any ancillary, allied health professional sponsored by an AOA member optometrist is eligible for membership in the AOA Paraoptometric Section.
For more information
For more information regarding paraoptometric membership, certification, or formal training programs, contact:
American Optometric Association
243 N. Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis MO 63141-7881