Board certification gets day in court

June 1, 2012

One remaining legal motion in the American Optometric Society's federal lawsuit challenging the validity of board certification for optometrists will determine whether the case goes to trial in Los Angeles in the US District court in July.

Key Points

Los Angeles-One remaining legal motion in the American Optometric Society's (AOS) federal lawsuit challenging the validity of board certification for optometrists will determine whether the case goes to trial in US District Court here in July.

AOS filed the lawsuit in 2010 to block the American Board of Optometry (ABO) from using the phrases "board certification" or "board certified" to describe the testing process and those who complete its requirements. "If the court finds the use of those phrases to be false, misleading, or confusing, the court has discretion to issue whatever order it feels appropriate to resolve the problem," said AOS legal counsel Craig S. Steinberg, OD, JD.

"We want the profession to know that we look forward to the conclusion of litigation," Dr. Cockrell added.

Level of competence questioned

"The lawsuit is really over the definition of 'board certification'; we don't have a problem if ABO wants to continue its certification program- that's not our goal to stop it-but it is not a true board certification program," AOS President Pamela J. Miller, OD, JD, told Optometry Times. "ABO Certification does not make an optometrist any more qualified.

"Licensed doctors of optometry have met functionally equivalent requirements for board certification as specially trained medical doctors," Dr. Miller said. "AOS supports the concept of a reasonable, attainable, cost-effective and credible means of demonstrating optometric competence."

Jeffrey Weaver, OD, ABO executive director, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Dr. Cockrell, a private practitioner in Stillwater, OK, had acknowledged in his deposition that optometrists may choose to seek certification to demonstrate their level of currency and competence, but doctors without certification can be as competent, according to deposition excerpts the AOS provided. "To achieve ABO certification, you have demonstrated your level of current competency at that point in time and if you haven't done that yet, it doesn't mean that you are any less competent," Dr. Cockrell said, according to the AOS excerpts. "The ABO is not designed to render an opinion on any doctor's ability."

What 'board certified' means

The AOS suit involves contrasting ABO certification with board certification in medicine.

In his deposition, Norman Wallis, PhD, former executive director of the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and now president of a company that manages health and biomedical societies, agreed that the ABO program "falls short of what is accepted by the designation 'board certified' and practiced by all other doctoral- level, health-care professions. It parallels requirements for the credential of licensure by the state." Dr. Wallis declined comment for this article based on the advice of AOS counsel.

He added in the deposition that the ABO program does not require rigorous and supervised post-graduate education, according to the deposition excerpts.