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A rkansans are now at a crossroads when it comes to ensuring access to quality eye care in our state.

As you may know, during the recent legislative session, the Arkansas General Assembly spent weeks debating a bill to allow Arkansas doctors of optometry to provide our patients with more of the care we are educated to safely provide--a measure that was long overdue.

The law governing the scope of practice for optometry in Arkansas had not been updated in over 20 years. Understandably, there have been many advances in technology and education over the last two decades. In far too many cases under the outdated law, we were sending our patients to a specialist, where they often had to wait longer to be seen, drive farther, and pay for multiple office visits for care their optometrist is qualified to provide.

After thoroughly studying both sides of the issue, legislators overwhelmingly approved Act 579, which will allow optometrists practicing in Arkansas to perform a handful of additional procedures we are educated to perform. We aren't talking about invasive procedures like LASIK surgery, or cataract surgery--those types of treatments can and should require a specialist. Despite what you may have heard from opponents of the law, the procedures allowed by Act 579 are minimally invasive, done in your optometrist's chair, and without the use of general anesthesia.

So why are we still debating this issue? Arkansas ophthalmologists (specialists) are backing a special-interest group that is trying to unwind Act 579 by collecting signatures to put the measure on the 2020 general election ballot. As an optometrist who treats thousands of patients in my rural Arkansas community, I urge voters to learn the facts about Act 579 before signing a petition.

Optometrists serve more communities across Arkansas. There is a full-time doctor of optometry in more more than 80 percent of counties around the state, while only 30 percent of counties have full-time ophthalmologists.

For a decade now, I have practiced in Heber Springs, seeing patients from around Cleburne County. All too often, I find myself having to send patients (many of them elderly) out of town to see a specialist for a procedure I'm qualified to perform. That's not unique to my practice--it's happening all over the state. Patients often wind up not only paying additional costs and traveling farther, but waiting weeks sometimes for an appointment to be seen by a specialist.

Unfortunately, in some cases, when faced with the added burden, patients choose to simply go without the procedure. Act 579 would help ensure that doesn't happen.

A rkansas isn't the first state to adopt this scope of practice. Optometrists in states like our neighbor Oklahoma have been successfully performing these same procedures for more than 20 years. Our neighbor Louisiana also allows optometrists to provide their patients with this level of care.

According to a recent study by Avalon Health Economics, convenient access to quality eye care is key for most patients when it comes to their eye health. More than 80 percent of American voters reported they would rather have easy access to a doctor of optometry than have to travel farther or wait longer for an appointment with a specialist.

Opponents of Act 579 have argued that doctors of optometry aren't qualified to perform these procedures, but that's just not the case. After four years of undergraduate school, optometrists attend four years of optometry school, a doctoral-level program that includes extensive classroom and clinical training. Many optometric physicians then go on to complete a one-year residency program.

For some optometrists, if they can't provide their patients the care they are educated to provide while practicing here in Arkansas, they'll go where they can. Last year, for the first time, 20 percent of Arkansas students graduating from optometry school chose to go to a state with a broader scope of practice instead of returning home to Arkansas. Sadly, that trend will likely continue if Act 579 goes away.

With paid canvassers out all over the state, and in many cases reportedly sharing misinformation as they ask for signatures, I just want to make sure voters know the facts about Act 579. Let's choose the road that will keep our state moving forward, and protect a law that will improve quality eye-care access for patients across Arkansas.


Dr. Joe Sugg is an Arkansas native and doctor of optometry in Heber Springs, where he has practiced for 10 years. He serves as vice-president of the Arkansas Optometric Association.

Editorial on 07/06/2019

Print Headline: GUEST WRITER: Save Act 579


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  • EyeofHorus
    July 6, 2019 at 12:55 p.m.

    Just remember to ask before surgery is done on your eyes, and you sign the consent: “Are you an optometrist or ophthalmologist”. This bill (Act 579) makes it possible for an optometrist to perform their first surgery on you, even if never done in training, only after a short course over a weekend.

    83-99% of people in AR are easily within 30-60 miles of an ophthalmologist, and majority of people (greater than 90%) want surgery on their eyes by someone medically trained in medical school. This bill was bought by optometry and general public was sold out by legislators more interested in contributions than what citizens want.

    ACT 579 gives non-physicians the right to do surgery on your eyes, and Arkansas deserves better. A similar bill was passed in KY (BTW most states have had their legislators overturn this exact bill because it did not serve the public and potentially harmed the patient - this year the same bill was overturned in TX, AL, and many other states).

    (Google an article in The Atlantic called “Kentucky’s New Eye Surgeon’s: No Medical Degree Required” by Ford Vox from February, 28 2011.)

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    July 6, 2019 at 7:09 p.m.

    eyeofhorus are you suggesting that when some people make an eye appointment they don't know if their doctor is an optometrist or an opthamologist, really ?
    exactly what types of eye procedures will an optometrist now be able to perform with the passage of 579?

  • NoUserName
    July 6, 2019 at 7:24 p.m.

    Will optometrists be required to obtain admitting privileges? After all, the state said that was extremely important to patient safety elsewhere.

  • CarpeNoctis
    July 7, 2019 at 11:03 a.m.

    I'm kinda surprised at this. In Texas, there are 3 tiers of optometrists/ophthalmologist. I went to a 2nd Tier, who freaked out when I always register high on that puff machine & dilation with the blue light. I forgot to tell her I always register 30-ish, though with new thyroid medication, it is down to 19. She was able to do Vision Fields, dilate for further possible eye damage, etc. Took 5 hours but I/we got through it. Are these the type of procedures that the new Act allows for? If so, there is absolutely no need for an 80 year old to come down out of the mountains, possible hindrance in driving, when these are tests they can do in their hometown.
    There was no mention of them doing surgery or anesthesia, just further testing. If this is true I am for it.
    Quote "We aren't talking about invasive procedures like LASIK surgery, or cataract surgery--those types of treatments can and should require a specialist. Despite what you may have heard from opponents of the law, the procedures allowed by Act 579 are minimally invasive, done in your optometrist's chair, and without the use of general anesthesia."
    LOL@NoUserName :o)

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    July 7, 2019 at 11:50 a.m.

    free dumb!
    come get your free-dumb
    in Canada you could medicate yourself for over 100 years.
    wth is really going on down here.