In last Saturday's letter ("A step backwards for eye care?"), Dr Jerry Tan said that "First World medical care does not involve optometrists running clinics to treat eye disease" and suggested increasing the number of ophthalmologists in Singapore.
The World Health Organisation defines optometry as a health-care profession that is autonomous, educated and regulated. It adds that optometrists are the primary health-care practitioners of the eye and visual system who provide comprehensive eye and vision care.
This includes refraction and dispensing, detection/diagnosis and management of disease in the eye, and the rehabilitation of conditions of the visual system.
Optometrists in Singapore receive a minimum of three years of tertiary optometric education that is dedicated to the ocular system. Some even do an additional two years of an optometry degree course.
With such intense training in all aspects of the ocular system, optometrists can perform primary eye care effectively and at a lower cost.
Optometrists act as front-line soldiers in the war against blindness and in ensuring that our patients have good-quality vision.
We can diagnose eye diseases and, if necessary, refer the patients to ophthalmologists. For example, we can help monitor the progression of cataract and refer the patient for surgery when necessary.
We can also co-manage stable patients after they have been treated by ophthalmologists, for example, by monitoring eye pressure and visual fields and examining the optic nerve of stable glaucoma patients.
This way, we help to free up time for the ophthalmologists to treat more serious and urgent eye diseases and cut waiting time in the eye departments of hospitals.
The Ministry of Health has recognised the important roles of optometrists and in 2007, regulated the profession to ensure that optometrists are properly trained and equipped to fulfil the role of providing primary eye care.
Just like in other First World countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, it is only right that optometry is integrated into the health-care system. It is progress for our nation.
Koh Liang Hwee (Dr)
Singapore Optometric Association
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