The American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) originated in 1917 in Washington, D.C., as the Artificial Limb Manufacturers and Brace Association (ALMBA). Anticipating World War I casualties would require orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) treatment, the Council of National Defense and artificial limb and brace manufacturers met to prepare the industry to meet those needs. Through the years, AOPA has changed its scope and evolved to become the unified voice of the O&P profession and industry.
Before the Civil War, few artificial limb companies existed. However, the carnage of the Civil War and subsequent wars dramatically increased the need for artificial limbs. Thus, limb companies were started, generally by amputees who were dissatisfied with available prostheses.
Between the world wars, ALMBA's focus changed. Its members began to view themselves as clinicians and professionals caring for patients rather than as craftspeople and blacksmiths hammering on leather and metal. The rehabilitation of people with disabilities was becoming a priority.
Through World War II and the Korean conflict, O&P practitioners realized a need for more O&P research, and through the association, interested the government in funding studies. During these years, membership expanded and the Association assumed more duties. It also changed its name to the Orthopedic Appliance and Limb Manufacturers Association (OALMA) and established a national office in Washington, D.C., to work more effectively with the federal government.
Setting Certification Standards
In 1948, the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics Inc. (ABC) was formed to set minimum standards for practitioners' education and experience levels and to test their clinical knowledge. Current requirements for certification include a degree from an accredited university or college, advanced education at an accredited O&P program, a minimum of one year acceptable experience or completion of an accredited residency, and satisfactory completion of written, written simulation and clinical patient management examinations. Over 4,000 O&P practitioners are ABC-certified.
Because of the increased need for advanced O&P education, the Association and the University Council of Orthotic and Prosthetic Education formed the National Association of Prosthetic and Orthotic Educators (NAPOE). Known today as the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), NCOPE now formally oversees O&P educational programs.
In 1966, the Association changed its name to the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association. Also in the 1960s, the Association, supported by the Committee for Prosthetic-Orthotic Education of the National Research Council, gathered the first national data on the O&P field, which helped establish guidelines for practitioner education and recruitment.
AOPA Expands Areas of Interest
In the early 1970s, a guideline for the O&P education coursework essentials, universal orthotic-prosthetic terminology, and new occupational titles and job descriptions were developed. Shortly thereafter, AOPA established the Business Procedures and Liaison Committee. Government and international relations also improved during these years.
AOPA extended its interests in the 1980s to such areas as insurance, business education, and members' marketing needs. An educational campaign was launched to teach personnel on Capitol Hill and at the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA), now the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies overseeing O&P funding, about the value of O&P.
These efforts paid off in 1990 when O&P won the right to be considered a separate field from durable medical equipment for reimbursement purposes. Other efforts on Capitol Hill resulted in the signing of HR 3839, which increased funding for O&P schools. In 1992, as AOPA celebrated its 75th anniversary, the first legislative conference was held to educate members about O&P legislative concerns and lobbying efforts.
In 2001, AOPA members voted to change the association bylaws regarding membership eligibility. This change allowed AOPA to expand its membership to include more O&P businesses and be more representative of the entire O&P industry. The broader membership has led to AOPA having an even stronger, more effective voice on Capitol Hill for O&P companies and professionals.
Looking Toward the Future
As the leading and most effective voice for the O&P industry, AOPA continues to improve the treatment of O&P on Capitol Hill, at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Veterans Administration and other federal agencies. AOPA's goal is to advocate for policies that improve patient care, sustain adequate Medicare reimbursement rates for O&P services, reduce Medicare's regulatory and paperwork burden and improve access to and coverage of O&P services in all health care settings.
AOPA will continue to provide small business tools and advanced services through our publications, educational seminars, the National Assembly, and through the AOPA Web site at www.aopanet.org. We have been delivering cost-effective business solutions for over 90 years. AOPA knows the business of O&P and will help you improve the operations of your practice, increase your bottom line and enhance the care you provide to your patients.