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Delaying the inevitable


Practicing optometry takes place in many locales, with the majority free of barriers to practice.

The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

Practicing optometry takes place in many locales, with the majority free of barriers to practice. Yet three states severely restrict the commercial practice of optometry: Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Delaware.

These states require some barrier between the optometrist’s office and the retail establishment, usually in the form of a separate entrance to the OD’s office. There were such separation statues regulating the commercial practice of optometry in most states half a century ago, but over time such arcane laws were repealed in 47 states, leaving only three states carrying on an outdated legacy.

Previously from Dr. Bowling: The future of optometry belongs to women

Currently, the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OKAOP) is attempting to beat back commercial optometric practice in its state by filing suit against Oklahomans for Consumer Freedom, a Walmart-backed group that raised about $5 million dollars in 2016.1

This group wants to gather signatures on a petition which would allow voters to amend the Oklahoma Constitution removing this separation requirement. The OKAOP suit before the state’s supreme court seeks to block the petition’s circulation. If the petitioners were to gather the required signatures and the subsequent state constitutional question were successful, retail stores could carve out room inside their buildings for eye care.

The OKAOP thinks that “patient quality of care (would) deteriorate if this measure were to eventually pass,” according to Joel Robison, executive director of the state’s association.2 Although no data shows that optometrists practicing in a big box location negatively affects patient outcomes.


“If this state question were to be successful, then optometry is going to be back under the thumb of the big retailer again, determining what patient care is given and determining what can be sold,” Robison said in a recent interview.1

I take issue with this statement. Over the course of my long optometric career I have worked in retail locations. I have never at any time had any member of retail management attempt to influence my patient care decisions.

Oklahoma has an optometric scope of practice that is the envy of many states and a top-tier optometry school in Tahlequah. Oklahoma ODs can point with pride to their accomplishments, and Mr. Robinson is carrying out the directives of his 700-member state association.

Yet as it has in 47 other states, progress marches on. Patients today demand convenient eye care and prompt if not instantaneous material delivery. The OKAOP has every right to pursue this course of action, but I fear it is delaying the inevitable.


1. Denwalt D. Big retailers petition for in-store eye care in Oklahoma. The Oklahoman. Available at: http://newsok.com/article/5543964. Accessed 4/26/2017.

2. Robison J. Vision care is a bright spot in Oklahoma’s healthcare landscape; Why does Wal-Mart want to change that? Tulsa World. Available at:  http://www.tulsaworld.com/opinion/opinionfeatured/joel-robison-vision-care-is-a-bright-spot-in-oklahoma/article_a19bb16c-040c-548e-bbec-026da0b9406f.html. Accessed 4/26/2017.

Read more from Dr. Bowling here

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