Law OKs optometrists to treat glaucoma

LOS ANGELES A few months ago, 75-year-old Abner Randall went to his neighborhood optometrist to get glasses. There he learned he had glaucoma.

"I've heard it because my father had it," said Randall.

Before January, Abner had to go across town to see his ophthalmologist. Now thanks to a new state law, he can get treatment from the same doctor who prescribes his glasses. Optometrists no longer need to refer patients to ophthalmologists for glaucoma treatment, unless they need surgery.

"Optometrists outnumber ophthalmologists two to one in some areas," said Dr. Fouad Melamed, optometrist.

Many are confused about the differences between eye doctors. Optometrists go through four years of optometry school while ophthalmologists have four years of medical school, plus four to six more years of training. Opthalmologists can perform surgery while optometrists cannot.

Dr. Fouad Melamed see hundreds of glaucoma patients who might otherwise go without care.

"Optometrists are fully trained in the diagnosis, management and treatment of glaucoma," said Dr. Melamed.

Opponents of the law feared that prescribing drugs and other therapies were more than optometrists should do.

Ophthalmologist Brian Boxer Wachler disagrees. He says 80 to 90 percent of glaucoma patients don't need surgery.

"They're not being allowed to do surgery that would be overstepping the boundary, but this is medical management, and I think if they're well trained, then certainly it's reasonabl," said Dr. Wachler.

Before this bill passed optometrists already treated many eye disease, includng allergies and infections, but now California optometrists can treat glaucoma the same way they do in 42 other states.

For Abner Randall, convenience means better compliance. "Oh yeah, because I can walk here," said Randall. "It's really almost in my backyard."

For more background information on glaucoma, or to find an eye doctor, visit EyeHelp.org - Glaucoma information


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