Prince George optometrist Robert Reid was able to prescribe medication for glaucoma for the first time on Wednesday.
After a multi-year lobbying campaign, a change in provincial regulations means optometrists are now allowed to treat basic cases of the eye disease. Prior to Wednesday, all prescriptions had to come from ophthalmologists.
Reid said the new directive should help reduce the amount of waiting time for ophthalmologists, which in Prince George can be up to a year. Optometrists currently outnumber ophthalmologists about three-to-one in the community.
"It's a method of triage," Reid said of the change. "We're the first line of primary care and the first line of contact for 80 per cent of patients in British Columbia."
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve which, if untreated, can lead to blindness. Although it can't be cured, the disease can be managed through a variety of treatment options depending on the type of glaucoma.
The new rules have the potential to create friction between the groups of eye specialists. The provincial association representing ophthalmologists, who have more years of education than optometrists, initially opposed the new rules. Reid said he wasn't surprised there was some resistance, but he's confident the two groups can continue to work together.
"Everywhere in North America whenever this legislation has come up there has been push back," he said.
A spokesman for ophthalmologists wasn't unavailable for comment.
B.C. is following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions, including Ontario, which already allows optometrists to prescribe the medication.
The new rules don't give optometrists the authority to treat all forms of glaucoma. They still must send any advanced or complicated cases to ophthalmologists
"If (patients) progress beyond a certain point then we have to kick them up to the next level," Reid explained.
Elderly people as well as those with diabetes and heart disease are at a higher risk to contract the disease, but new technology is allowing eye specialists to catch it earlier. Reid said the best way to prevent glaucoma is to stay healthy overall.
"We try to stress with patients to take care of their systemic health," he said. "If you take care of your heart it will help with your eyes."