A hindrance

Dear editor:
I am writing in response to a number of articles I have seen in your paper on the province’s budget announcement de-listing optometric services for adults.
Since the budget, I have been trying to understand whether the government is going to continue to protect patients who rely on optometric services because they have sight-threatening conditions such as diabetes, glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Recently, the government clarified those medically-necessary eye examinations for adults between the ages of 20 and 64 will be continued. However, they have indicated they are proposing that this only occur upon a physician’s referral.
While this seems somewhat logical at first blush, if you look at the proposal more closely, it creates some serious problems, not just for optometrists but also for family physicians.
It also will end up costing the health care system significantly more money as it doubles (or even triples) the number of OHIP visits required as compared to the current process.
I don’t think the government really has considered how this new process will hinder—not help—disease prevention and health promotion. Family physicians already face large patient workloads and stresses due to their own funding issues under OHIP.
Almost 140 communities across the province currently have been designated as under-serviced for family practitioners.
Ontario patients, who already are having problems finding a family doctor, will be forced to visit after-hour clinics and emergency rooms—just to get a referral to an optometrist.
Requiring patients to be referred to optometrists through their family physicians ignores the years of specialized training optometrists undertake to detect, diagnose, and treat eye conditions.
The only way to ensure adult patients continue to seek treatment, and have access to needed diagnostic check-ups, is to ensure the current system continues and they are covered under OHIP for visits to their optometrist for sight-threatening diseases without a direct referral from a physician.
Dr. B. Johnstone