Ontario’s optometrists are in contempt of the law | Robert Young

I have two younger children, and I want to see a doctor for various issues that require care and attention and that can be done in the optometrist’s office. Until recently, Ontario’s optometrists held our eyes hostage.

When I sought treatment for an eye infection that would eventually require daily contact lens care, I was turned away by my optometrist, with no notes or appointments to provide any kind of service.

My optometrist did not explain his reasoning. His office policy was to hold a patient like me – who is too young to understand why he would refuse to assist in a treatment that I already had a written prescription for – in contempt for some alleged “code violation”.

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A refusal by a “position holder” is supposedly for the patient’s “safety” or that “the patient is visiting an optometrist for additional elective examinations”. This statement is euphemistic nonsense. The guardian of the treatment has never actually been in danger of facing jail time for giving an eyeful.

Last year, Ontario’s ombudsman, Paul Dube, found that “the optometrist was simply awaiting permission from my ombudsman to allow me to examine my eye, because I was an ‘optometrist’ in his eyes.” It’s an astonishing report, and after speaking with eye experts, is quite likely correct.

Unfortunately, Ontario’s ombudsman report does not include current optometrist policies or the law. Ontario optometrists are protected by the Ontario Medical Association and the Ontario College of Optometrists. I asked: if optometrists are protected by the professional associations, why is the optometrist practice refusing to comply with Ontario’s laws? I’ve been told it’s because optometrists do not have to negotiate with the government on behalf of their patients.

Ontario optometrists can elect to operate as a public-sector institution and not as an association that is solely concerned with its members’ interests. Since Ontario’s optometrists are not concerned with their own public-sector interests, it is now time for them to act with compassion and be willing to negotiate on behalf of their patients.

Imagine a future world where patients could see a friendly and well-trained physician in a single office, without many stringent forms or faxes and without wasting time and money getting to and from a doctor. Imagine a world where all doctors treat patients first before any other compensation occurs. Imagine a world where there are reasonable, standardized requirements to participate in a public-sector institution, and where there are no stupid laws like the optometrist law.

What kind of world does Ontario need? Patients of optometrists across Ontario have a right to a two-sided health care system, not one broken down in pieces. Optometrists serve a dual purpose: they provide care to prevent eye infections, and when that happens, they can provide glasses. It is a function of optometrists that uncovers prevention that results in glasses, and parents trust their doctors with that information.

There is no reason why optometrists should have to bargain away their patients’ benefits. The legal power to compel optometrists to perform a service in defiance of a patient’s wishes should be removed immediately, and the optometrist union should stop shielding optometrists from the wishes of their patients.

Ontario optometrists have had patients in their offices for decades, but when a “membership” optometrist steps in to protect his position, he or she is apparently allowed to hold a patient in contempt for how that optometrist conducts their business. Optometrists, we all need clear rules and enforceable requirements that all optometrists comply with, and I am thankful that our ombudsman is now doing his job and uncovering what is really happening.

Optometrists in Ontario, I call on you to stand up for your patients: they’re entitled to treatment, whether they like it or not.

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