Rushed legislation threatens quality eye care in Florida
As an ophthalmologist, I am proud to say that the citizens of Florida have the best eye care of any state in the country. This is undoubtedly due to the thousands of outstanding ophthalmologists and optometrists who have been working side by side and in cooperation with each other for decades. Unfortunately, that quality of eye care is in serious jeopardy. This year a trade group of well-financed optometrists — who are not medical doctors — are rushing the Legislature to pass legislation (SB 278 and HB 239) that for the first time in this state's history would allow optometrists to prescribe a vast arsenal of potentially dangerous oral medications with absolutely no patient safeguards. If passed, this legislation would be one of the most liberal prescribing laws in the country and would have none of the patient safety measures that are in the laws in other states.Simply put, these bills would give the Florida Board of Optometry unbridled power to authorize optometrists to prescribe any drug except Schedule I and II narcotics. Florida already has the unenviable reputation as a "pill mill" state. So it escapes me why the Legislature would give thousands of optometrists in our state new prescription pads to prescribe Vicodin, Lortab, Xanax and other habit-forming drugs that can be abused and cause addiction. Moreover, this legislation further blurs the distinction between medical doctors (ophthalmologists) and optometrists, who are not licensed medical doctors, and leaves patients confused as to who is actually treating their eye problems. My Florida Society of Ophthalmology (FSO) colleagues have spent the last several weeks working on a reasonable and balanced resolution to this debate. If the Legislature believes it is in the public interest to give optometrists oral drug privileges, then those privileges need to be accompanied by real patient safeguards. The FSO has repeatedly advised the Legislature that those safeguards should include at a minimum: Thus far, our requests for meaningful patient safeguards have fallen on deaf ears, and the Legislature seems intent on hurrying the bills through the process. However, as the session progresses, rest assured that the FSO will continue to ring the bell for patient safety. Let's hope the Legislature listens before any patients are harmed.
Gary S. Schemmer, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist in Winter Haven. He is a partner in Fischer, Schemmer and Silbiger Eye MDs. Schemmer received his bachelor's degree as well as his medical degree from the University of Florida.