Thousands of people in Norway are registered with the conditions. Glaucoma and cataracts require regular monitoring and sight tests, in part to assess whether treatment or further treatment is necessary.
People with diabetes must also attend regular eye examinations, as poorly controlled blood sugar is a risk factor for a number of secondary ocular conditions.
Sveinung Stensland, spokesperson for health issues with the governing Conservative party, told newspaper Aftenposten that he saw optometrists (often referred to more simply as opticians) as well-qualified experts who should be given more responsibility than they currently have in the eyecare sector.
The primary function of optometrists in Norway is to conduct sight tests and subscribe optical correction in the form of spectacles and contact lenses.
But Stensland has sent a parliamentary question to health minister Bent Høie, inquiring whether optometrists should be given more responsibility for monitoring ocular health in Norway.
That would reflect practice in some other countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, optometrists – who qualify via a specialized university degree followed by a mandatory one-year programme of vocational training – work more closely with local health authorities in shared care of patients’ ocular health.
In Norway, optometrists qualify for Directorate of Health authorization by completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of South-Eastern Norway.
“Norway has a good workforce of optometrists across the country. Most people live closer to an optometrist than a hospital ophthalmology department. If optometrists were given more responsibility for ocular health, more Norwegians would have access to necessary follow-up care at more places throughout the country,” Stensland wrote in his question to Høie.
That would shorten journeys for patients – a notable advantage in rural areas – and make better use of optometrists’ qualifications, according to Stensland.
Optometrists could carry out secondary care for patients with cataracts, glaucoma and diabetes, the Conservative MP argues.
While they do not have authorization to treat those conditions or prescribe medicine, optometrists are educated in, and have equipment that enables detection of, signs and symptoms of eye diseases.
That means that optometrists could potentially check for signs of problems and refer patients back to hospital care if necessary.
“The number of consultations with busy ophthalmologists [hospital eye specialists, ed.] can be significantly reduced with better interaction between ophthalmologists and optometrists,” Stensland said to Aftenposten.
Eva Meling Ødegaard, head of the Norwegian Ophthalmological Society (NOF), told Aftenposten that Norwegian optometrists do not have the necessary expertise to monitor conditions including glaucoma or diabetes-related retinal disease, however.
Using optometrists to relieve workload on medics should be “within safe framework and control”, such as under the auspices of hospital eye departments, Ødegaard said.
Stensland responded to those comments by saying that doctors are “normally sceptical about giving responsibility to other professional groups”.