A pair of identical bills moving through the legislature in West Virginia would enhance optometrists scope of practice by granting greater authority to prescribe medications, order clinical tests and perform some procedures to treat eye conditions.

The bills, House Bill 2978 and Senate Bill 570, would allow the West Virginia Board of Optometry to regulate the scope of optometric practice in the state. The Board of Optometry would be limited to procedures and treatments that are included in the curriculum of an accredited school of optometry. 

The Executive Board and members of the West Virginia Optometric Association feel that optom- etrists should be allowed to practice according to the full extent of our education and training, says James S. Campbell, O.D., president of the West Virginia Optometric Association. This is the manner in which health-care professions are regulated in West Virginia and most other states. Why should optometry be the exception?

Proponents of the bill also say that the legislation would help curb health-care costs and provide patients greater and more readily available access to care. The population in West Virginia is mostly rural, and in many areas our patients have to travel an hour or more for an ophthalmology consultation, Dr. Campbell says. In many cases, this care could be rendered locally by qualified optometrists if our law did not restrict care that we are otherwise trained to deliver. As it stands, the current law can prohibit West Virginia optometrists from adopting new technologies and less invasive treatments, Dr. Campbell adds.

The twin bill appears to be headed for an interim legislative study committee, which would include representatives from optometry and ophthalmology. The committee would then submit a report and recommendations to the legislature at the beginning of the 2010 session.

In 1976, West Virginia passed legislation that allowed optometrists to prescribe therapeutic drugs for the treatment of pathology affecting the human eye. Although other states had previously passed legislation that permitted O.D.s to use diagnostic drugs, West Virginia was the first state to allow the use of therapeutic drugs. 

Opponents of the original bill tried to repeal the law, claiming it would result in malpractice suits that would bankrupt insurers and cause rampant blindness across the state, Dr. Campbell says. We proved the opponents of our 1976 bill wrong, and we will prove the opponents of our 2009 bill just as wrong, he says.

Vol. No: 146:04Issue: 4/15/2009