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By Dr. Jeffrey Calhoun

Imagine sitting in pain in your eye doctor’s office and being diagnosed with an ailment that can be quickly treated with oral medication.

Now imagine being told that you need another appointment with another doctor just to get those meds. Or, worse, that you must head to the emergency room for those prescriptions.

That is an issue patients in 48 other states never face, yet it confronts New Yorkers all the time. It’s time to change this law and show that New York is ready to embrace the unavoidable realities of our changing health care landscape.

The core problem is that optometrists in New York are not allowed to write prescriptions for oral medications. Paradoxically, they can treat patients and prescribe topical versions of these same medications. Yet if the correct course of treatment requires a pill, patients must see another health care provider for relief.

There’s no rational reason to deprive optometrists of this ability. For example, dentists, podiatrists, nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants all have the right to prescribe and use oral drugs – and their patients are better off for it.

By allowing New York optometrists to write prescriptions for oral medications, the state will improve patient care, reduce costs for patients and the health system, and help people who live in underserved areas receive the timely care they deserve.

The need for this change is acute. The state Center for Health Workforce Studies found that 15 upstate counties have a shortage of ophthalmologists; two counties do not have a single ophthalmologist. And this problem is growing.

What’s more, a University at Albany study concluded that the supply of ophthalmologists will decrease by 19 percent by the year 2030.

Meanwhile, as the population ages, the number of patients seeking care is expected to jump dramatically.

In most other states, optometrists have been safely prescribing oral medications for nearly 40 years, and patient care has improved because of it. Patient safety should prompt New York to modernize its health care system to benefit patients. The status quo should not deprive New Yorkers of safe, convenient and cost-effective health care options.

It is time for New York to join 48 other states and let optometrists write prescriptions for certain oral medications.

Jeffrey Calhoun, O.D., FAAO, practices at the Advanced Eyecare Center in Williamsville and is an active member of the State Optometric Association.