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Opinion | Turning all eyes to HB349 is a good plan

Optometrists are still subject to a 28-year-old law that no longer reflects the level of training and expertise of today’s optometrists. 

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Technology has revolutionized our lives over these last three decades, and it has also revolutionized eye care. Yet, in Alabama, optometrists are still subject to a 28-year-old Optometry Practice Act which no longer reflects the level of training and expertise of today’s optometrists. 

Educators at the UAB School of Optometry and optometry schools across the nation understand that the eye is a delicate and tiny organ, and that the stakes are high with any new technology being used around the eye. Protecting the safety of patient vision has remained paramount through all the updates in optometric education. 

As a profession, optometry has changed drastically since 1995. Optometrists have become the trusted primary eye care providers in Alabama. Meanwhile around the country laws allow optometrists to routinely perform laser procedures, remove skin lesions around the eyelids, diagnose and treat eye diseases. In 10 states, laws have been updated allowing optometrists to perform all these modern procedures, and the results are overwhelming. Data reveals that optometrists have safely and effectively performed over 100,000 such procedures on live human patients, as documented by several southeastern states’ boards of optometry. 

Alabama optometrists have proven the accusations against optometry during scope expansion arguments are indeed frivolous and unmerited. Optometrists have now been safely and effectively using diagnostic and therapeutic medications to deliver high quality eye care to Alabamians for decades. In total, nationwide, some 225 state laws have been enacted since the 1970s to broaden the scope of optometric practice. Never in our country’s history has any optometric practice act been repealed. NEVER.

During the 2023 Legislative Session, House Bill 349 has been introduced. It seeks to update the scope of practice for optometry to include procedures for which they are educated and trained to perform. 

HB349 will make eye care more accessible and more affordable for patients in Alabama. It will allow patients in Alabama to have simple, safe procedures performed by professionals whom they have trusted for years for their routine eye care needs. Alabama patients deserve to know the facts and to have a choice in their eye care. 

Dr. Howard Day, O.D., is president of the Alabama Optometric Association.

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