Opinion piece by Dr. Selina McGee, OD, of Midwest City
June 30, 2017
Media Contact: Eli Nichols;
Oklahoma Doctor Fights Attacks on Patients' Vision Health
By Dr. Selina McGee
I have worked as an optometric physician in Oklahoma for 15 years. I fit patients with contacts and prescription eye glasses, I treat debilitating conditions like glaucoma; I perform surgeries; and I have diagnosed life threatening conditions like brain tumors.
Today, my profession and the health of my patients are being attacked by Walmart.
Under the guise of “market competition,” Walmart is working to change Oklahoma’s constitution to eliminate the legal barriers between medicine and retail sales. In other words, they want optometric physicians like me to work in a Walmart store.
Our state Constitution currently prohibits such a set-up, a choice that Oklahoma lawmakers wisely made to treat medical care as something other than a normal mass market retail product.
There are two important reasons for that degree of separation. The first is quality.
I work in a private practice and my only business is optometry. I am not assigned a budget by a Walmart manager or asked to cut corners. I know my patients by name not just a number. I have every incentive to offer the highest quality of care.
Conversely, Walmart does not specialize in providing high quality goods and services. They are known for bulk sales and cheap products. That is fine if you are buying a garden hose; it is not fine if you are getting laser eye surgery. Why would we concede the health of our eyes, arguably the most important of our senses, to a conglomerate who knows nothing about healthcare?
Other than guaranteeing quality of care, another reason for separating medicine from big box store environments is trust.
If a doctor tells a patient they need a procedure or a new prescription, the patient needs to trust he or she is receiving advice based on sound medicine not a salesperson meeting quarterly quota.
Big retailers rely on quickly selling as much (cheap) stuff as possible to as many people as possible. In states where Walmart can house optometry clinics, there are numerous examples of optometrists who are pressured to change how they practice medicine to increase sales and sell more products. That may be good for business; it is bad medicine.
“Quality care” and “trust” are the bedrock principles that all doctors operate on and all patients demand. Sadly, Walmart wants to replace those principles with just one: “profit.”
Oklahoma Optometric Physicians Challenge Walmart Petition
The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) - an organization representing more than 700 Oklahoma eye doctors - today filed a legal challenge to Walmart's initiative petition to allow big box stores to profit from the practice of optometry. The OAOP is challenging Walmart's petition on the basis of "logrolling," or combining different topics into one, a violation of the state's "single subject rule" for legislation and constitutional amendments.
Walmart's petition erroneously lumps "optometric physicians" and "opticians" into the same category, allowing big box stores to house both, even though they are very different professions.
"Optometric physicians are doctors who perform surgeries, diagnose and manage chronic eye diseases, and are tasked with detecting potentially life threatening conditions," said Glenn Coffee, whose Oklahoma City-based law firm has been retained by the OAOP. "The state has decided that it's better to keep medical professionals like optometrists out of big retail stores like Walmart.
"Opticians, on the other hand, are not licensed medical professionals," said Coffee. "They are technical practitioners who dispense and fit corrective lenses. Unfortunately, Walmart's petition wrongly and unconstitutionally lumps opticians and optometric physicians together, which is why it should be thrown out."
Emphasis on Health vs. Walmart Profits
OAOP President Dr. Michelle Welch, an Idabel-based optometric physician, says that Walmart's petition will ultimately hurt patients. She says Oklahoma's current laws are designed to promote good vision health and high quality care, and Walmart is seeking to lower the bar.
"Oklahoma's high standards for care are attracting the best optometric physicians from across the country," said Welch. "We have one of the finest optometry schools in the nation at Northeastern State University. Unlike other health care sectors, we don't have access-to-care problems. Optometrists come to Oklahoma and stay here, and they are practicing in the vast majority of our 77 counties.
"If we lower the bar and make our eye doctors into Walmart employees, I am afraid Oklahoma will no longer be a destination-state for vision care professionals. What we will see is less of a commitment to excellence, fewer people interested in practicing optometry, and worse outcomes for patients."
Welch said that the debate really came down to what was more important: health or big business.
"Our current laws were designed to promote good health. It would be a tragedy if we rewrote them to promote stronger sales for Walmart instead," said Welch.
The OAOP represents more than 700 Optometric Physicians in Oklahoma. OAOP's mission is to lead optometric physicians through education and opportunities to improve vision, eye care, and health care.
|OAOP ~ 4850 N. Lincoln Blvd. Ste A~ Oklahoma City, OK 73105|
Oklahoma Eye Doctors Recognize Vizavance with Apollo Award
Vizavance has offered over 365,000 free vision screenings in the last year
The Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians (OAOP) has awarded Vizavance, formerly known as Prevent Blindness Oklahoma, with its annual Apollo Award. The award goes to the person or institution that goes above and beyond the call of duty to improve vision health in Oklahoma.
Vizavance is an Oklahoma-based non-profit whose primary goal is to advance childrens' education through better vision. The organization has offered free vision screenings to over 365,000 children from preschool to twelfth grade in the last year alone. The screenings help identify vision issues that, if never identified, can seriously hamper a child's ability to succeed academically.
"About one-in-four children have an undiagnosed vision disorder that can directly impact their success in school and even their ability to socialize normally," said OAOP President David Hall. "Vizavance and its staff are working hard, not only to educate people about the connection between vision health and academics, but also to directly provide vision care to families who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Their outstanding contribution to vision health in Oklahoma makes them the natural choice for this year's Apollo Award."
Vizavance works with and public and private schools, Head Start Centers and day care centers in all 77 counties of Oklahoma. In addition to free screenings, Vizavance also provides classes to school staff, nurses, and healthcare professionals who are interested in becoming a Children's Vision Screener or Children's Vision Screener Trainer.
Vizavance President Dianna Bonfiglio formally accepted the award at the OAOP's 2016 Fall Conference, held the last weekend of September.
"The doctors that make up the OAOP are on the front lines of vision care in Oklahoma," said Bonfiglio. "These are some of the hardest working and most dedicated eye doctors around, so it's an honor to be recognized by their organization for our work. We look forward to continuing our work together to ensure Oklahoma's children have healthy eyes so they can succeed in the classroom."
The OAOP represents over 600 Optometric Physicians in Oklahoma. OAOP's mission is to lead optometric physicians through education and opportunities to improve vision, eye care, and health care. For more information visit