Optometrists, or doctors of optometry, are licensed to practice as independent primary eye and vision care providers and can identify over 270 systemic diseases through a comprehensive eye exam. Optometrists are the only eye care providers available in 3,500 communities across the nation. Optometrists complete extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage ocular disorders, diseases and injuries as well as systemic diseases that manifest in the eye.
Optometrists’ authority to perform ophthalmic procedures varies from state to state. Six states allow optometrists to perform ophthalmic procedures within their full scope of practice, including laser procedures. Four states limit optometrists to procedures involved in the removal of ocular lumps and bumps. Twenty-eight states, the District of Columbia and Guam prohibit optometrists from performing any surgical procedures. Eleven states outline other specific procedures that optometrists may perform in statutes or rules.
State laws determining optometrist authority to prescribe medication or use injections also vary. Thirty-four states allow optometrists to prescribe Schedule II controlled substances or hydrocodone combination drugs to treat patients suffering from severe eye pain. Optometrists in 22 states may only use injections to counter anaphylaxis or anaphylactic reactions, and 21 states allow optometrists to utilize injections to treat anaphylaxis as well as macular or retinal diseases.
Providing more than two-thirds of all primary eye and vision health care in the U.S., optometrists are an important access point to the health care system for many patients. Learn more about their authorities on NCSL’s Scope of Practice Policy website at scopeofpracticepolicy.org.
Sources: AOA Health Policy Institute, “County Data Demonstrates Eye Care Access Nationwide,” 2018; NCSL, Scope of Practice Policy, 2021.
This resource is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $853,466 with 100% funded by HRSA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.