Scottsdale optometrist Annette Hanian met with a patient in her office last June and knew from the outset the woman needed immediate medical care.
The woman had immense pressure in her eye and Hanian realized she had acute angle-closure glaucoma. The condition requires immediate attention, with the pressure often temporarily relieved by a prescription drug until surgery can occur. Without relieving the pressure, eyesight can be lost or reduced.
But state law barred Hanian from prescribing Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors, the medicine that would ease the pressure and reduce the chance for permanent damage. She called five ophthalmologists but none could see the patient that day. Finally, an ophthalmologist in Sun City was located and Hanian’s staff drove the woman across the Valley to get the proper medication.
A bill approved by the Legislature last week ensures this type of emergency can be dealt with in a timely manner. HB2380 allows optometrists to write prescriptions for several types of medicines, including the Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors that helps glaucoma patients in emergencies. Forty other states allow optometrists to use oral glaucoma medicine.
The bill, approved by a bipartisan group of legislators, is sitting on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk and many are urging her to sign it so optometrists can react quickly to a patient’s needs.
To be sure, this is not cutting edge legislation. A vast majority of other states already allow optometrists to prescribe the medicine authorized in this bill.
Colleges of optometry in the United States, including Midwestern University in Glendale, spend a significant amount of instructional time including thousands of clinical hours on prescription drugs and their impacts for eye care and on the rest of the body. Optometrists receive as much or even more training in pharmacology than dental students and other disciplines. Dentists and other independent medical practitioners have full prescription-writing authority.
Optometrists have had prescription-writing authority in Arizona since 1999 with no serious issues arising. In fact, optometrists have long been allowed to write prescriptions pain medications including hydrocodone.
A proposed change in federal regulations will turn hydrocodone into a Schedule II drug and optometrists would no longer be allowed to prescribe the medication in Arizona. Part of HB2380 allows optometrists to continue helping patients get relief from pain by continuing their ability to write prescriptions for hydrocodone.
By signing this piece of legislation, Gov. Brewer helps ensure people with eye problems around the state have access to proper medical care. Just 320 ophthalmologists reside in Arizona, few in the rural parts of the state. By contrast, Arizona boasts more than 900 optometrists who hail from all corners of the state.
A small group of lawmakers has argued to protect one group rather than ensure residents from all around the state receive the primary eye care they need.
I hope Gov. Brewer will sign this legislation to enable patients to receive more quality accessible primary medical eye care services throughout Arizona.
–Frank Akers is president of the Arizona Optometric Association.