COMMENTARY: Glaucoma bill would help protect Texans’ eyesight | Columnists

Glaucoma is a common but very serious disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve due to fluid build-up. It is one of the leading causes of age-related blindness and it can affect just about anyone.

Nearly 185,000 Texans over the age of 40 have been diagnosed with glaucoma, according to Prevent Blindness America. Others who are at a high risk for glaucoma include those with a family history of the disease, the very nearsighted, people with diabetes and African-Americans. In fact, more than 31,748 African-Americans in Texas are currently diagnosed with the disease.

Often called the “Sneak Thief of Sight,” glaucoma has few initial symptoms and may already be present with little to no pain or loss of sight. Regular eye exams are critical for diagnosing glaucoma, because if left untreated — or if treatment is mismanaged — it could lead to irreversible blindness.

The good news is that with early detection, glaucoma can be controlled and blindness is often preventable. But it requires sophisticated medical care to navigate the treatment, and in some cases requires surgery.

This important issue affects so many Texans that since 1999, state law has required the involvement of a trained ophthalmologist to oversee optometrists whenever they diagnose and treat glaucoma patients. As medical doctors and surgeons, ophthalmologists provide invaluable expertise and oversight when an optometrist is a patient’s main provider of glaucoma care.

Current state law says that if an optometrist diagnoses a patient with glaucoma, an ophthalmologist of the patient’s choice, or one in the area where the patient resides, must confirm the diagnosis within 30 days. After that, the two providers are to manage the glaucoma patient together, and the ophthalmologist is ultimately responsible for the patient’s care.

This is important because it may seem easy enough for an optometrist to manage a patient’s glaucoma care with eye drops or pills, but even with early detection, a patient may very well need an ophthalmologist to provide medical or surgical treatment to prevent a loss of sight.

The problem, however, is that patients often do not have this information when they are diagnosed. Therefore they may never even be aware of or meet with their supervising ophthalmologist. And with the potential for irreversible blindness this is necessary, should something go wrong during treatment.

Fortunately, right now there is a simple solution under consideration by lawmakers in our Legislature.

The Glaucoma Patient Safety Act, if passed, would require that upon diagnosis, glaucoma patients be provided written information about their optometrist collaborating with an ophthalmologist in their treatment. It would also create a user friendly, web-based registry where a patient can find the ophthalmologist coordinating…

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