Florida's formerly anti-optometry bill has been amended to continue allowing ODs to refer to themselves as optometric physicians. Photo: Getty Images.

At least three states (Florida, Connecticut and Texas) introduced legislation this year that would prohibit certain healthcare providers—potentially including optometrists—from advertising or referring to themselves as “physicians” in medical settings if the term is not defined in their respective practice acts. Last month on March 15th, Florida’s anti-optometry bill, SB 230, passed the state Senate with a unanimous vote of 37-0. The bill now awaits a hearing in the House of Representatives and has been filed as HB 583.

Fortunately, after significant pushback from optometrists and advocates, including the Florida Optometric Association, an amendment was made to the language of the bill on March 31st. The revised document now states the following: “An optometrist licensed under chapter 463 [Florida’s practice act for optometrists] may use the following titles and abbreviations as applicable to his or her license, specialty and certification: ‘doctor of optometry,’ ‘optometric physician’ and other titles or abbreviations authorized under his or her practice act.”

The original version of the bill would have banned ODs from using the term “physician” as part of their title since the term isn’t explicitly defined in optometry’s practice act in Florida. Other allied health professionals such as dentists, chiropractors and podiatrists—all of whom have four-year post-graduate degrees, much like optometrists—wouldn’t have been subjected to the same restrictions due to the inclusion of the word in their practice acts. Additionally, it also outlined the possible penalties for using language to describe one’s medical licensure that is not explicitly written in their profession’s practice act, ranging from a motion to cease and desist all the way up to a misdemeanor or felony charge.

If HB 583 passes the Florida House and is signed into law with the recent amendment, it will preserve the right of ODs to refer to themselves as optometric physicians—despite the term’s exclusion from the current practice act—if their medical license, specialty or certification describes them as such.

Last month, Connecticut’s Senate voted against SB 1016, related to the truthful representation of healthcare providers’ medical degrees and licensure in advertising. As it was written, the legislation would not have affected the terms used to describe or advertise the services provided by optometrists if it had been passed. The American Optometric Association (AOA) noted in a recent article on its website that it had been vigilant in ensuring that such language was excluded from the bill throughout the legislative process.1

A similar bill in Texas, HB 2324, is still in the running and was referred most recently to the House Committee on Public Health. While this bill also currently excludes anti-optometry language, the Texas Optometric Association and the AOA continue to monitor the legislation to ensure optometrists’ rights remain protected. If the bill does pass, it does state that optometrists and other healthcare personnel who provide direct patient care will be required to wear a photo identification badge during all patient encounters, which lists the provider’s first or last name, the hospital with which they’re associated, the type of license held by the provider and, if applicable, the provider’s status as a student, intern, trainee or resident.

Hopefully, this pivotal amendment to Florida’s bill will be retained in any final legislation signed by the governor and set a precedent for other states with similar aims to remove any anti-optometry language that may be present in their documents.

American Optometric Association. Optometry’s scope wins draw new attacks from medical, ophthalmology groups. Published March 9, 2023. https://www.aoa.org/news/advocacy/state-advocacy/optometrys-scope-wins-draw-new-attacks-from-medical-and-ophthalmology-groups?sso=y. Accessed April 5, 2023.