Optometrists fail to lead by example

By Susan Wild

HealthDay Reporter/MSNBC – Ontario’s optometrists aren’t leading by example when it comes to delivering family health care.

They can’t tell me exactly what a patient is experiencing when they respond to my clinical question about whether they’ve been experiencing headaches. They may check a box saying they’ve found a day when a headache hasn’t been there. Sometimes, those patients also have a scalp pain, which is something they typically ignore, or they’re not exactly sure about. (A recent study found that optometrists can’t reliably deliver with pain and no fever, or with migraines without fever.)

By the time I have a response from the optometrist, I’ve already called the hospital and the 911 number, and gone off my prescribed medication. In this case, I wasn’t getting any relief from my prescription medicines.

So, optometrists have a responsibility to tell me whether they think I need to change a prescription medication or see a hospital physician. But optometrists rarely do that. In fact, in the past year, they’ve responded only once in my doctor’s office.

Until optometrists can get serious with family health care, they have a responsibility to explain to patients why and how they’re treating them. Optometrists shouldn’t have to take my calls.

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins has said that optometrists are part of Ontario’s comprehensive health care system. So should they? I think optometrists have a greater duty to lead by example when it comes to delivering family health care.

Complaints to the Ontario Health Quality Council have gone up in the past year. In the past four years, the optometrists have received complaints about 0.5% of the time. That means optometrists are responding to a majority of complaints received, and only responding to two complaints out of every 10 complaints. By comparison, ophthalmologists and gastroenterologists have a much higher rate of complaint satisfaction, and response time to complaints is way slower. Optometrists and ophthalmologists also have significantly less complaints per year compared to they do in the United States.

By comparison, optometrists in California have 20% fewer complaints per year, and are more attentive to complaints.

The optometrists’ professional association is fighting for a half-step toward meeting Hoskins’ goal. In their response letter, they said they agreed that the optometry system in Ontario needs improvement, but they would leave it up to the Health Quality Council to define what is “impacting patient care.” I wish they’d be honest and say what is hurting patient care.

In the meantime, optometrists in California have started demanding patients fill out a declaration on each prescription. Doctors in Ontario and California are working toward having the same response in the next two years.

Optometrists need to lead by example in Ontario. Optometrists should be no more biased than any other physician when it comes to responding to calls for help. Optometrists want to see patients, too. They just have a different job.

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