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Georgia lawmakers can easily increase access to eye care services

Georgia lawmakers have the opportunity this session to increase consumer access to needed eye care services and enable highly-skilled medical professionals to use the patient care techniques they were trained to provide.

Senate Bill 153 would enable Georgia to join with 15 other states, including neighboring Tennessee, that authorize doctors of optometry to perform limited injections to areas near the eye. As the training for doctors of optometry continues to increase to keep up with advancing technology, it is essential for state law to keep up as well. SB 153 makes that possible.

While those opposed to the legislation prefer to deal in alarmist statements, your readers may be interested to know that in nearby Tennessee, which has allowed doctors of optometry to perform injections for 20 years, leaders of the Southern College of Optometry, which has trained doctors of optometry from 47 states, including those practicing in Georgia, say every graduate of SCO since 1995 has received injections training.

Students there complete four years of undergraduate studies and then go on to optometry school where they practice injection techniques on each other during the first and second years of study when they are learning the principles of injection. During clinical training, which is done during the third and fourth years of study, they practice on patients. During continuing education studies, a day or two in duration, doctors of optometry conduct practice sessions on their fellow doctors.

SCO’s leaders note they have been training students and doctors of optometry for that entire time with no adverse events reported and no increase in malpractice cases. It bears repeating that consumers in more than 15 states have access to doctors of optometry authorized to perform these procedures. Doctors of optometry graduating today may select where to practice based on their authorization to use the training they received during their many years of study. We want to ensure that Georgia remains pro-business and continues to attract the brightest and best in the profession of optometry.

Under the terms of the legislation, a credentialing system for doctors of optometry seeking to perform certain injections into the eyelid and mucus membrane of the eye would be established. While the process of treatment via injection has been taught in schools of optometry for many years, all doctors of optometry in Georgia seeking to offer this treatment would be required to receive additional training and a certification to perform injections with the training taught by an ophthalmologist.

SB 153 would increase patient access to treatment while simultaneously decreasing the cost to the patient. There are currently more than 1,000 practicing optometrists located throughout Georgia, while there are only about 350 ophthalmologists, according to national research. This legislation would increase patient access to eye care treatment via injection and reduce the waiting time consumers may experience for such treatment. It may also encourage patients to see their care through to completion rather than failing to complete their care when they deal with the lengthy waiting times currently available to them.

Georgia’s doctors of optometry are committed to continuing their education and staying abreast of the latest techniques that will help their patients. Recent medical advances have resulted in some medications being administered via injection to treat unresponsive styes, warts and cysts. Medications delivered via an injection into the lid often have fewer side effects than do oral medications. Researchers are working to introduce new technology involving the use of microneedles to treat glaucoma and corneal neovascularization. This technology would greatly improve the medical treatment of these diseases by providing a more accurate and successful delivery method to patients.

During the next 20 years, Georgia’s population will increase 46 percent, according to the state’s Office of Planning and Budget. With a growing demand for access to care it will help the people of our state if we give consumers access to the services they need, provided by highly skilled clinicians and which their neighbors have had access to for many years.

Benjamin Casella is president of the Georgia Optometric Association.

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