The new year brought good news for optometrists and aspiring doctors that wish to setup practice in the state of Massachusetts (MA). On January 1, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker signed a legislation that aims to promote affordable care and accessibility for patients in Massachusetts. Specifically, the legislation will allow optometric physicians to prescribe oral, and topical therapeutic agents for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of glaucoma, including drugs classified as schedule III, IV, V, and VI. Coincidentally, this heath legislation was approved just in time for glaucoma awareness month.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible vision loss in the world, approximately 80 million people suffer from glaucoma worldwide. In the United States it is estimated that more than 3 million Americans live with glaucoma. There are different types of glaucoma, most of them cause few symptoms during the early course of the disease, but as progression occurs it leads to irreversible changes that can result in partial or complete vision loss.
Avoiding glaucoma progression requires prompt diagnosis and treatment, and MA optometrists have been working for more than 14 years to remove the treatment barriers imposed by the state. A similar proposal to expand the scope of practice MA was unsuccessful in 2016, but the difference this year is that the legislation was passed in conjunction with a set of health reforms accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides optometrist gaining treatment territory, the new law includes requiring insurance companies to cover telehealth visits, protects coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment, and expands the scope of practice for advanced practice nurses.
Before this change in legislation, MA was the only state where optometrists were unable to treat glaucoma and were obligated to refer their patients. The limitations in the scope of practice affected glaucoma patients the most because it reduced accessibility of care, and the opportunity to manage the disease as early as possible.
Now, depending on the stage of glaucoma found in a patient, they may start topical treatment for glaucoma in their optometrist’s office, or be referred for surgery if it were necessary. Additionally, the state will now benefit from having new graduates who practice optometry, instead of relocating to other states to put all their glaucoma knowledge to good use.
Find out about your state’s Scope of Practice here!