Role of optometrists expanding in Alberta

EDMONTON – The province is promising better access to eye care for all Albertans by expanding the role of optometrists.

Optometrists will soon be authorized to provide the following four new services:

First, though, they will have to complete a certification program starting this fall. They will also have to undergo regular onsite practice reviews. The changes should be implemented by the end of the year.

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The hope is that the changes will reduce the amount of time patients have to wait for access to eye care, especially in rural communities.

“It means patients get better care in the community and also means that an ophthalmologist can see more complex cases, and see those patients faster,” said Health Minister Fred Horne.

This is similar to what the province did when they allowed pharmacists more prescribing power. The goal was to reduce wait times for doctors.

READ MORE: Alberta expands range of pharmacy services

Ontario, B.C. and Manitoba have already expanded the role of optometrists, allowing local eye doctors to practice the full extent of their training, while reducing wait times for specialists.

Right now in Alberta, there are 132 ophthalmologist, or eye “specialists,” versus 645 optometrists.

“This will be very convenient for both the patient, the optometrist to be able to initiate treatment, monitor it, and then in cases where it is more advanced, they will still be referred to the appropriate ophthalmologist,” said Dr. Aaron Patel, the President of the Alberta Association of Optometrists.

Thirty-year-old Alvado Lewis, who has glaucoma, knows first-hand how helpful faster access to treatment could be.

When he started to lose his vision at age 13, his doctor rushed his referral to an ophthalmologist. But it still took two months to get in. His eyes got worse during the wait.

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He now has no vision left in his left eye, and only 80 per cent in his right. He feels getting patients in to specialists sooner is crucial, and believes he could have benefited in a big way from the changes being put in place.

“If anything, I’d probably have way more vision, even to my left eye,” he said. “I’d probably have some vision in my left eye, which would make a big difference.”

The CNIB calls the move a great first step. But it also hopes a more comprehensive strategy with all health professionals will follow.

“There’s approximately 100,000 Albertans today with some form of vision loss,” said CNIB’s John McDonald. “And that number is expected to grow exponentially in the years ahead, largely because we’re living longer.”

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News

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