Last month, the Tennessee Board of Optometry ruled that optometrists located inside retail stores must separate their offices from the retailer. The rule, which went into effect this month, will require all ODs and retailers make the necessary physical changes by July 1.
According to The Commercial Appeal, more than 10 Walmart and Sam’s Club locations in Tennessee will be affected by the new rule. The rule is intended to protect the independence and professional judgment of the ODs leasing the space and ensures the ODs can set their own hours.
The Board rejected a request to adopt an emergency rule to postpone the rule’s effective date until July 2016.
"Tennessee has historically been a two-door state," says Mark J. Uhler, OD, president of the Energeyes Association for Corporate-Affiliated Optometrists. "We understand the current ruling modifies that rule slightly and stipulates that the optometrist's office has no direct access to the optical without some sort of physical barrier. No door should open directly to the optical. Ultimately this is a move by the Tennessee Board of Optometry to create a greater physical separation between the clinical/professional service from a retail operation. I applaud this move and the Board for spearheading it."
The Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians chose not to comment for this story.
Physical and professional separation
The new rule in Tennessee has reignited a debate across the country about similar rules creating a separation—both physical and professional—between ODs and retail spaces.
“We have had this rule in Texas for many years,” says Bill C. Thompson, OD, of Richardson, TX, in a conversation that originated on online discussion forum ODWire.org. “The intent, along with other rules, is to keep the retail optical from controlling the doctor's practice. Whether this is effective can and has been debated for years.”