Should the Ontario Optometrists Be Forced to Accept Funding for Patients Who Need It the Most?

For the last five years, Ontario’s optometrists have held patients hostage with bogus complaints from nurse practitioners and occupational therapists — and threatened to shut down the entire system unless they were allowed to…

Should the Ontario Optometrists Be Forced to Accept Funding for Patients Who Need It the Most?

For the last five years, Ontario’s optometrists have held patients hostage with bogus complaints from nurse practitioners and occupational therapists — and threatened to shut down the entire system unless they were allowed to practice in eye hospitals and take their patients out.

By dint of government grandstanding, at least two optometrists have been forced to surrender their practices or be evicted by the Ontario College of Optometrists. And, while it is now illegal to regulate the profession out of existence, the college has continued to drive optometrists from the practice in order to shield the state’s 48,000 active optometrists from competitive threats from both Ontario-based and out-of-province optometrists.

Ontario’s optometrists are not bad people or un-doctored in any way. They are self-regulated professionals, and are demanding that they be treated as such.

Over the last few years, Ontario’s optometrists have played cat and mouse games with their counterparts, the nurses and therapists, who have demanded the Ontario government grant them authority to do the same work as the optometrists. The optometrists have refused to relent, and Dr. Carol Lamb of the College of Optometrists states, “There has been absolutely no decrease in patient demand and our students have not said we should not be expanding in Toronto. Quite the opposite.”

Currently, nearly $500 million in Ontario’s health care system comes from the optometry profession. Optometrists are charged the same fees for the same care as nurses and occupational therapists (rates have not changed in years), but they aren’t allowed to bill patients, and optometrists aren’t allowed to claim reimbursement by the government, thus not only damaging their wallets but violating their professional ethics as it pertains to patient care.

If the government is serious about providing Ontario patients with the best care, they must rescind the de facto prohibition and allow optometrists to take their patients out of provincial facilities and into private eye hospitals, where they can safely bill patients, create a professional and transparent marketplace and compete with their counterparts.

In its report in July, the Ontario ombudsman, Justice Bob Anton, released a list of complaints filed with his office, and more complaints will likely continue to be filed. Most of the complaints are from nurses and occupational therapists who have been told by optometrists that they do not “have the necessary training or experience to do the work that is currently carried out in the hospital environment” by nurses and occupational therapists, as Dr. Lamb said.

These complaints are that optometrists have taken patient care hostage. Optometrists are passionate about patient care, and they make regular arrangements with the private eye hospitals to keep patients out of hospitals and give their patients the best possible care. They also boast that many optometrists have worked for decades in hospitals and learned exactly how to do the job of an optometrist with the help of the staff at the ophthalmology department.

Currently, nearly $500 million in Ontario’s health care system comes from the optometry profession. Optometrists are charged the same fees for the same care as nurses and occupational therapists (rates have not changed in years), but they aren’t allowed to bill patients, and optometrists aren’t allowed to claim reimbursement by the government, thus not only damaging their wallets but violating their professional ethics as it pertains to patient care.

If the government is serious about providing Ontario patients with the best care, they must rescind the de facto prohibition and allow optometrists to take their patients out of provincial facilities and into private eye hospitals, where they can safely bill patients, create a professional and transparent marketplace and compete with their counterparts.

— A. Johnson is an attorney at Winston & Strawn LLP.

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