THE AUTHORITY OF A NORTH CAROLINA LICENSED OPTOMETRIST TO ORDER IMAGING
IN THE COURSE OF THEIR PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE.
The question is one of the authority of a duly licensed optometrist in North Carolina
to order imaging studies in the course of their practice when their examination and/or
findings indicate that the patientís vision problems and/or complaints might be related
to a condition or conditions whose diagnoses is dependent upon findings that can only
be obtained and/or verified through imaging. Further, can a facility providing such
imaging service(s) be denied payment by third party payers based solely on the fact that
the procedure(s) was ordered by an optometrist?
In the past there have been isolated instances where a facility offering “imaging services”
to the medical community denied patients access to their services when the practitioner ordering
such services was an optometrist. As an increasing number of optometrists gained hospital
privileges fewer and fewer complaints were received by the Board. Only recently did the Board
receive information that a facility that had provided imaging on the order of an optometrist was
denied payment for their services because the procedure was ordered by an optometrist.
The use of imaging studies in primary eye care is well documented. Such studies pertinent to
an optometrist in the rendering of primary eye care services are many and vary in the rationale
for the initial ordering of the images. Some of the more common imaging studies that the
optometrist might have the occasion to order that are not usually available in the providerís
office include, but necessarily limited to, the following: plain film x-rays, computed tomography
(CTscan). magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with and without enhancement techniques, MRA
(magnetic resonance angiography), MRV (magnetic resonance venography, ultrasound, both A-scan
and B-scan ocular ultrasonography, carotid ultrasonography (carotid doppler), temporal artery
ultrasonography and echocardiography, to name but a few. Many imaging studies are performed with
a variety of contrast materials typically administered by the attending radiologist, the
interpreting radiologist, or a designee thereof.
The ordering of the appropriate imaging study is typically driven by the clinical findings
that the primary care optometrist encounters in the physical examination of the patient.
During the course of the examination he or she may encounter several signs and/or symptoms,
as well as suspect clinical findings, that suggest the presence of underlying disease that
may not be readily assessed without imaging studies. It is the clinical decision of the
practitioner in such situations to order the appropriate imaging study(s) to assist in the
appropriate management or referral of the patient. While the clinical decision making process
will vary depending on many factors, the findings of the physical examination as well as
the multiple differential diagnoses that exist given certain presentations are paramount in
arriving at the decision to order a particular image study(s)
While imaging technology(s) is constantly changing and improving and while imaging paradigms
will likely change over time, the rationale for ordering such studies is more stagnant.
There are many reasons why imaging studies may be requested, including the following
(relevant examples are included as a guide and are not meant to be all inclusive):
• DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS. _ In the instance that a patient who presents with proptosis
and EOM restriction, thyroid orbitopathy and orbital myositis. Here is an example where the
differential diagnoses and can only be differentiated by imaging (usually MRI)
evaluating specifically the size of both the bellies and insertions of the
• DIAGNOSTIC CONFIRMATION. _ In the instance where a patient presents with classic
findings of thyroid abnormalities including abberant laboratory studies and proptosis.
The diagnosis of throid orbitopathy is highly suspected and is confirmed by imaging.
• OBJECTIVE MEASUREMENT. _ In the instance where a patient presents with a visual
field defect suggestive of chiasmal etiology. Imaging is important in being able to objectively
measure the size of a space occupying lesion since that may play a significant role in the
appropriate management of that patient. Follow up of carotid artery disease is another example
of the use of imaging to objectively measure change over time.
• EVALUATION FOR UNSUSPECTED ILLNESS. _ When used judiciously this is an appropriate
rationale for ordering imaging studies, especially when the clinical presentation and findings
do not point to a specific set of differential diagnoses as in the case of the patient who
presents with visual field defects with a history of complicate migraine.
• MEDICO-LEGAL JUSTIFICATION FOR IMAGING. _ Instances may well arise where a patientís
complaints are out of proportion to the pertinent positive clinical findings thereby raising
the specter of occult disease. This is especially true in cases where a review of systems
unveils several seemingly disparate problems that may or may not be currently under control.
Imaging should not be used to Ďcover basesí, but should be employed when there is a high level
of suspicion for an underlying disease process.
While imaging technologies and paradigms used today will be different in the years to
come as newer technologies and improved imaging techniques become available, the need for
optometrists as primary eye care practitioners to order imaging studies in specific instances,
either as primary or adjunctive therapy in the work-up and continued management of selected patients,
will remain so long as the public looks to members of their profession as the preferred
providers of primary eye care.
STATEMENT OF POLICY
First and foremost it is the opinion of the Board that the process behind the ordering
of a specific imaging procedure(s) is crucial in evaluating the appropriateness of the
requested imaging study; therefore, clinical findings including a detailed history that
support the need for ordering a particular image procedure should be well documented in
the patientís chart. Imaging should not be used in a blanket fashion to “fish for”
positive clinical findings. The ordering of imaging should be quite specific to the
needs of the patient and must be based upon findings that are communicated to the radiologist
or other physician performing and/or interpreting the procedure to enable him/her to more
accurately evaluate the patient.
In a proper case where the clinical and other findings
including the patientís history and complaint(s) are properly documented in the patientís
chart by the examining optometrist, it is the opinion of the Board that it is both appropriate
and within the scope of practice of optometry in North Carolina for that optometrist to order
a particular imaging procedure(s), and that the order for the procedure(s) should be honored
by a facility in North Carolina offering such imaging procedure(s). When the results are
reported by the radiologist or other physician performing and/or interpreting the imaging
procedure to the optometrist ordering it the optometrist is to make the report a part of
the patientís permanent record. Should the findings indicate an underlying disease process
requiring referral of the patient to another provider then the optometrist is to make known
to that provider when communicating on the patientís behalf the results of the imaging
procedure in addition to their own clinical findings.
Finally, given the fact that it is the opinion of the Board that a North Carolina licensed
optometristís scope of practice enables him or her to order imaging procedures in a proper
case, it follows that a facility performing the procedure and/or those interpreting same
should be entitled to reimbursement in the same manner and in the same amount had the
procedure(s) been ordered by a physician, dentist or other licensed health care provider
who may order imaging during the course of their professional practice.