Optometrists in Ontario must stop treating consumers like hostages

Nobody likes to be held hostage. But what’s the incentive for an optometrist to take your request seriously if the only prize you get is a letter in the mail?

Ontario’s optometrists have been dolling their patients out of that unpleasantness for years. They have been manipulating customers into paying sky-high fees for vision exams with an eye toward increasing their fees. Of course, they’ve done this with no legitimate basis.

This pattern has been in place for years. Ask your optometrist to examine your eyeballs for a reasonable fee. Get an eye chart for a reasonable fee. Now ask your optometrist to write you a pretty letter every two years. Each year, optometrists will give you a letter stating your vision is perfect, a sweetie. I can do better with (and to) you.

Once you get your prescription and write a cheque, don’t bother coming back to the optometrist’s office. Don’t call to get a second opinion. Don’t arrange an appointment for a while (the optometrist can’t get as much work done when he’s busy writing long letters). Leave.

I understand and sympathize with the plight of these optometrists, who have a high volume of work and a high quality of service. But there’s a point where this approach has to end.

The pressure the optometrists feel to increase their prices gets to a point where the customers’ interests are being jeopardized and their financial future is threatened. Other provinces have started taking steps to make it difficult for optometrists to hold consumers hostage. Ontario’s optometrists have the opportunity to do the same if they’re truly interested in the long-term well-being of their patients.

Optometrists in British Columbia, for example, are compelled to make individual appointments with their customers. They aren’t allowed to bill for visits beyond that first office visit. In addition, optometrists in British Columbia are required to offer a number of opportunities to review their fee before making a final decision. There’s no room for coercion.

British Columbia’s optometrists have become more reliable providers of health care since they received a more professional and respectful assessment. Optometrists in Ontario have the opportunity to continue to improve service and save money, as is already happening. Optometrists in Canada’s most populous province need to treat their patients with the same dignity and respect they use for themselves.

Ontario has the chance to leapfrog the increasingly uncompetitive Optometrists in Canada organization by ending their practice of extortion. Optometrists in the other provinces aren’t forcing Canadians to buy a vision chart or an eye chart, using non-medical terminology.

Optometrists in Ontario are taking advantage of their customers to line their pockets. Leaving customers to deal with them is as unfair and unacceptable as holding hostage their customers because the optometrists themselves are so terrible. Optometrists in Ontario can no longer charge sky-high fees to support themselves with unjustified price increases that endanger the public’s health.

Ontario is one of the richest and most productive jurisdictions in North America. It’s time to put the health of Ontarians before the profits of the optometrists. As Harry Potter once said: “I must get out of here before they do.”

Chris Larson is research director of the National Coalition for Optometry and blogs about optometry here. He lives in Ontario.

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