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To the wall

US optometrists have drawn battle lines against a proposed law change they say would give Walmart the power to dictate an optometrist's scope of practice 

19 Jul 2018 by Selina Powell

A struggle in the US between optometrists and a Walmart-backed campaign for a constitutional amendment in Oklahoma raises salient questions for UK practitioners about the extent of corporate influence on healthcare. 

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In the future, will the retailing and clinical elements of the profession become more clearly delineated as in the US? Or will the retailing element of the role fall to the wayside altogether?

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Oklahoma is one of three states in the US that does not permit optometrists to practise in a corporate environment.

Walmart has attempted to get around this restriction through a campaign for a constitutional amendment that would allow spectacles to be sold in a retail environment.

But optometrists in the state have pushed back against the change, concerned that the amendment could result in corporations limiting an optometrist's scope of practice in pursuit of profit margins.

Writing in The Journal Record, Oklahoma optometrist Selina McGee expresses her view that the amendment would undermine her profession and the health of her patients.

"Patients need to know they are dealing with a doctor who is committed to taking care of them for life and not a salesperson looking to meet a quarterly quota," she emphasised.

On the other side of the divide, the campaign for State Question 793 argues that the amendment would make optical services more economical and convenient for its residents.

While a total restriction on optometrists practising in a corporate environment may seem quaint in a country where retail and healthcare are intertwined, the issues raised in the debate echo some of the concerns raised on these shores.

The OT team has been busy asking practitioners for their views on where optometry is heading for our upcoming Future of Optics edition.

A clear theme that came through in those interviews was the need for optometry to take a more clinical focus if the profession is to remain sustainable in the long-term.

It seems that trying to keep the profession afloat by increasing sales targets and shortening testing times is like attempting to stop a dinghy from sinking with a thimble – no matter how fast you bail, it’s the shape of the vessel that’s the problem.

In the future, will the retailing and clinical elements of the profession become more clearly delineated as in the US? Or will the retailing element of the role fall to the wayside altogether?

The debate in Oklahoma lends a fresh lens to the issue of tying a healthcare profession into a corporate structure.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the AOP community forum.

Image credit: Getty

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