For too long, Kentuckians have faced obstacles when seeking eye care. Many people are forced to travel more than an hour to see a doctor for certain conditions. Others must make appointments with multiple doctors rather than seeing just one.
It's especially burdensome if they have a health problem that causes impaired vision. Lack of access is also a hardship for those too young to drive, the elderly, people with unreliable transportation, the working poor who don't receive paid time off work and taxpayers who must foot the bill for transportation costs for Medicaid patients.
Thankfully, the legislature overwhelmingly and with bipartisan support passed a law that will result in better access to quality eye care for all Kentuckians. The process for approving the regulation that governs the law had its first public hearing July 21.
The legislation allows optometrists who become trained and credentialed to provide additional treatments using the latest technology. By modernizing the law, patients — especially those in rural communities — will be able to depend on their hometown doctor to treat their eye health needs efficiently, effectively and safely.
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Optometrists are located in 106 counties across Kentucky. In contrast, two-thirds of the state's counties do not have an ophthalmologist.
Once a regulation is written to detail how the training and credentialing will occur, the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners will have the ability to allow optometrists to treat many of the conditions they already manage.
This regulation fulfills our commitment to the governor, legislature and people of Kentucky to create responsible professional standards to ensure quality eye care. They deserve and expect no less than that.
It was created with input from ophthalmologists — the result of the work of a multi-disciplinary task force of five MDs and five doctors of optometry, which presented recommendations to the board.
The regulation will ensure that any optometrist credentialed to perform advanced procedures, including some limited laser procedures, would be well-trained and competent. They must demonstrate clinical proficiency to the satisfaction of a board-approved qualified instructor.
It will require optometrists to undergo a classroom and clinical training course covering 24 specific technical areas. The course must be approved by the board and provided through an optometry or medical school.
Before being permitted to perform a limited number of types of laser procedures, the optometrist must demonstrate clinical proficiency to the satisfaction of a board-approved qualified instructor.
The board is going beyond the existing standard in granting privileges to perform new health-care procedures by requiring doctors of optometry to be credentialed on new privileges.
This is more stringent than the current requirements of medical boards in Kentucky; in Oklahoma, where a similar law has been in place for more than a decade with zero complaints to the Board of Medical Licensure; and around the United States.
No currently licensed Kentucky optometrist will be grandfathered in to do these additional procedures.
History has shown that every time optometrists have been allowed to expand their scope of practice, it has resulted in more Kentuckians receiving safe, quality eye services — further demonstrating that the scare tactics used by a few have no basis in reality.
Health-care issues rarely have solutions that will benefit all patients as well as taxpayers. When Kentucky is facing critical health-care provider shortages, citizens who are disproportionately affected by disease, an aging population and budget shortfalls, there is no better time to implement the Better Access to Quality Eye Care Law.