Nearly half of optical stores nationwide not staffed by qualified optometrists - AMO

Eye exams by uncertified staff raise concerns in Malaysia

31 Mar 2024 07:00am
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo credit: Canva/Supersmario/Getty Images
Photo for illustration purpose only. - Photo credit: Canva/Supersmario/Getty Images

PUTRAJAYA - Most people with vision disorders like short- and long-sightedness would visit an optical store to get their sight tested and have a pair of spectacles or contact lenses made for them to improve their eyesight.

However, how many of these outlets have qualified optometrists at their premises to examine their customers’ eyes and prescribe eyeglasses?

Nearly 50 per cent of the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 optical stores nationwide do not have certified optometrists and are run by individuals with no background in optometry, according to a survey carried out by the Association of Malaysian Optometrists (AMO) in 2022.

Said AMO president Ahmad Fadhullah Fuzai: "Take a look at shopping centres, there are many optical stores there but are they managed by competent individuals with the green-coloured optometry practice certificate displayed at their respective premises?”

He told Bernama it is the responsibility of the public to ensure they are diagnosed by certified optometrists registered with the Malaysian Optical Council (MOC).


Ahmad Fadhullah also claimed that some optical store owners operating without an optometric practice license conduct eye examinations based on know-how picked up from unaccredited YouTube videos or other online sites.

He warned that individuals diagnosed using incorrect methods could encounter serious vision problems.

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"Anyone can run an optical business because all they need is to get a business license from the local authority,” he said.

He said currently, there is no clause in the Optical Act 1991 mandating that only those with an optometry practice certificate can open an optical store, hence the lack of a regulatory body to oversee such businesses.

Relating a case involving a child who was wrongly diagnosed, Ahmad Fadhullah said the child had a vision problem with a refractive error of 400 but was "prescribed” a pair of spectacles with a refractive error of 200 by an uncertified individual, which ultimately led to the child developing a lazy eye or amblyopia.

"However, due to the lazy eye, this child still could not see clearly even after wearing (spectacles with) optimum power of 400... the nerves in the child’s eye had become passive and could not react even when given the correct power.

"This is happening in Malaysia (but) why are the affected people not inclined to sue the parties concerned? This can be considered negligence and misconduct. Their negligence can lead to serious consequences such as blindness,” he pointed out.

According to MyHEALTH, the official portal of the Ministry of Health (MOH), an optometrist is a professional eye care provider whose job scope is to examine the eyes and detect and determine the presence of vision-related problems for people of all ages.

Optometrists can detect vision problems caused by refractive error (short- or long-sightedness) as well as squinting and eye diseases such as red eye, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

They also decide on the appropriate treatment including prescribing spectacles or contact lenses, or eye exercises/visual therapy or a combination of all these.


Ahmad Fadhullah, meanwhile, said in order to stop unqualified people from providing optometry services, MOH should develop an integrated policy in collaboration with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government with regard to the issuance of operating licenses to premises dealing in optometry services.

He said during a discussion with MOH, his association proposed that local authorities issue separate business licenses for optometric practices and shops dealing in eyewear.

"(This is necessary as) the services we offer are distinct from those offering regular eyewear,” he said.

He added there is also a need to review the Optical Act 1991 as it is "outdated and no longer aligned with current practices and future needs”.

When the Act was introduced, Malaysia had between 200 and 300 optometrists. Bernama was told that as of Dec 14, 2023, a total of 3,184 optometrists were registered with MOC.

AMO secretary-general Sathiya Prakash Sooryanarayana agreed there is a pressing need to amend the Optical Act, saying that the law, in its current form, does not adequately prioritise the role of optometrists as primary providers of eye care at the community level.

"Under the Optical Act, the term ‘optometry’ refers to the general profession of eye care. Optometry is an exclusive term that describes the role (of a certified optometrist) and services related to eye and vision care provided by a certified optometrist,” he said, adding the Act also does not distinguish between optical shops and optometry practice.

Meanwhile, a source told Bernama the process of amending the Optical Act 1991 is currently underway and that the amendments will be presented in Parliament in the near future.

Sathiya Prakash, a lecturer in optometry at Universiti UCSI (Kuala Lumpur), added that the level of public awareness of the importance of seeking the services of a certified optometrist is low.

"Most people still don’t know the role of an optometrist in eye care. They assume visiting an optometrist is only for measuring visual acuity, then getting glasses or contact lenses. However, optometrists perform a comprehensive eye examination that covers overall eye health assessment such as eye muscle balance, intraocular pressure, external and internal eye health, as well as optic nerve health,” he explained.


Ahmad Fadhullah, meanwhile, said the field of optometry is increasingly shifting towards the adoption of technology, in line with the introduction of various advanced components such as deep learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing.

The use of such technology enables optometrists to access visual organs in a more comprehensive manner, thus allowing for immediate intervention if necessary.

Among the sophisticated equipment currently used in the field of optometry are fundus cameras that can capture images of the retina, optic nerves and retinal blood vessels, thereby assisting and enabling optometrists to make more accurate and faster analyses. Other gadgets used include ophthalmoscopes and optical coherence tomography. - BERNAMA