- - Thursday, March 10, 2016

Throughout our history, American innovators have used their freedom to improve the lives of their fellow citizens – making us healthier, happier, and more prosperous. But resistance to change naturally comes from those who see anything new as a threat to the old way of doing things.

This contest between the new idea and the old order has become a fixture of American life. Across the country, the taxi lobby pushes to outlaw Uber. Now in many cities, the hotel lobby is trying to shut down AirBnB. These simple apps represent pioneers of the future in transportation and travel that draw the ire of special interests – the prison guards of the past — because they offer a better experience at lower cost.

Now in Georgia, the prison guards of the past are on the march as lawmakers consider outlawing yet another innovation that promises to benefit consumers and patients across the state – all because a few entrenched interests may lose out if they cannot adapt.

This legislation – Georgia House Bill 775 – is a step backward for patients, and for the innovators who promise to revolutionize eye care by harnessing the power of telemedicine.

Although pioneers are making strides every day, creating innovative ways to bring quality health care to Georgia , those who rely on outdated models of health care delivery want to stifle innovation to protect their bottom lines.

There is currently a cutting-edge technology available in Georgia from an innovative company called Opternative that provides online, inexpensive eye exams to Georgia patients using doctors licensed in Georgia, allowing patients to get a physician-issued prescription for glasses or contacts online within 24 hours, for a fraction of the cost of a normal office visit. HB 775 would effectively drive this groundbreaking technology out of business at the expense of patients, simply to protect the entrenched optometry industry.

Though supporters take up the mantle of patient health and safety, Opternative does not replace normal eye health exams, which are recommended by professionals for otherwise healthy patients every two years. Instead, it allows healthy patients to update and correct their annual vision adjustment (or refraction) from the comfort of their own home with a smartphone and a computer screen.

If HB 775 passes, Georgia would be the first state in the country to specifically prohibit online refraction, which has proven to be a safe and effective method of determining a patient’s prescription for glasses or contacts. Why is Georgia choosing to fall behind other states in embracing new, effective technology? Why are legislators prioritizing entrenched interests above the need for convenient, cost-effective vision care for patients?

Innovation is not a partisan battle. Innovation is about progress, choice and change. It is about empowering consumers with information. While there may be legitimate concerns about where health care technology is leading us, there is also tremendous opportunity to rethink how consumers access health services. We are at a time in history when patients are empowered and have more choices than ever in how they receive their care. Georgia should be at the forefront of this progress, not moving backward.

Opternative’s technology makes needed vision tests available in both rural communities, where finding a choice in providers can be a challenge, and in urban environments, where the simple convenience of taking a test from home can mean money saved for working people and families. HB 775 would deny Georgia patients a choice in how they receive their vision care — for no good reason.

Telemedicine is the future. It provides better care, at more convenience and lower cost. It’s discouraging to see the Georgia legislature shutting down innovation and fighting this advance for consumers. Georgia — and every state — should be forward thinking enough to recognize that fighting the future is bad policy as well as bad politics.

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