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New Research Results: What Impact is Optometry Making on Eye Health in U.S.?

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The positive impact you’re making on patients.

June 12, 2024

Eye health rose in the U.S., commensurate with the state-by-state granting of prescription authority to doctors of optometry starting in the 1970s, three economists write in an article recently published in Contemporary Economic Policy, according to a report posted on the website of the American Optometric Association (AOA).

In “Seeing is believing: The effect of optometrist scope of practice expansion,” researchers cite three important milestones: prescription authority for diagnostic purposes in the 1970s and then later therapeutic pharmaceutical agents; the growth in ODs’ numbers from 11.06 per 100,000 to 16.11 per 100,000 between 1990 and 2017; and in 1986, when Medicare classified optometrists as medical doctors, making them eligible for reimbursement for medical eyecare.

Key takeaways, according to co-authors and West Virginia University economists Kihwan Bae, Ph.D., and Edward Timmons, Ph.D., and University of Minnesota Duluth economist Protik Nandy, Ph.D., are:

  • Healthcare providers should be permitted to do the work they are trained to perform.
  • Their work suggests that allowing optometrists to treat patients is associated with a decline in vision impairment of 12 percent.
  • There is evidence of larger declines in vision impairment for non-white patients. As a result, permitting optometrists to treat patients narrowed historical disparities in vision outcomes.

“Vision impairment declined (despite a lag) by 12 percent on average over a 15‐year period after the policy change,” the researchers write. “The effect was not instant but emerged six years after the policy change. Moreover, the policy brought a larger decline in vision impairment among the non‐white population, who might have more limited access to medical care than whites. Also, TPA prescription authority is associated with about a 13 percent increase in hourly wages among optometrists who are not self‐employed.”

This is especially consequential as the number of ophthalmologists is on the decline, AOA points out.

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