Can eye doctors reach common ground this legislative session?

posted by audrey morton -  Feb 6, 2019

Current Texas law states that if optometrists have a patient with a viral disease, they have to be referred to an ophthalmologist.

Every legislative session, optometrists seek permission from politicians to allow them to practice what they’ve been trained to do.

Texas Optometric Association past president Dr. Stacie Virden, of Waco Vision Source , said Texas optometry laws haven’t been updated in 20 years, which means they don’t always have access to new technology and advances, leaving optometrists to refer patients to a medical specialist, and might have wait two to sixth months to get in to see them.

"We want to allow optometrists to prescribe all medications needed to treat eye diseases; to remove unnecessary restrictions on certain eye diseases, like glaucoma, and to be able to perform in office procedures," said Virden.

She said Texas is used to leading, but is lagging when it comes to patient eye care.

Playing devil’s advocate, she said the argument from ophthalmologists is that optometrists didn’t go to medical school, so they should only prescribe glasses and contact lenses.

Virden said optometrists’ training is like a dentist—who also give anesthesia and perform small procedures.

Texas Ophthalmological Association president Dr. Sanjiv Kumar said there should be more collaboration between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

He said the heart of the issue is the lack of a collaborative approach that causes unnecessary challenges for patients.

Optometrist Dr. Albert Pang hopes to meet with opposing parties, legislators to expand their scope of practice and have less restriction. However, he believes the Texas Optometry Board should decide what is the scope of practice, instead of being decided by the Texas Legislature or lobbyists.

Pang said optometrists and ophthalmologists have to look at the common denominator to lessen the suffering of the public and increase patient accessibility.

Pang said in Texas, there is one licensed ophthalmologist to every three optometrists.

Kumar said the number of both doctors are growing in Texas.

However, Virden said she’s trying to hire an associate, but 30 percent of graduates go to other states. She added Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico are ranked in the top 10 for eye care in the nation.

Kumar said Texas has two optometry schools, nine ophthalmology residencies and 12 medical schools.

“There is room at the table for everyone. We want to collaborate and ensure that every medical condition is treated appropriately and patients are protected. And, so if there’s any crisis, it’s just a lack of collaboration,” said Kumar. “I don’t see a reason why both sides can’t just work together going forward. And, I don’t see how expanding the scope of practice in any way, shape or form would’ve helped anyone.”

He said there’s no limit to everyone working together.

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