Louisiana’s ophthalmologists and optometrists don’t see eye to ey

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By Robert Mann

You may recall those entertaining commercials a few years ago for Holiday Inn Express, part of that company’s “Stay Smart” campaign. The humorous notion was that a good night’s sleep made you smarter and qualified you for demanding tasks for which you had no training.

My favorite spot featured an operating room filled with a bevy of nurses and a surgeon, standing around a patient on an operating table. As the operation is ending, the surgeon removes his surgical mask. “You’re not Dr. Stewart,” a startled nurse says. “No,” the man calmly admits, as he takes his leave, “but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

The spot’s tagline is, “It won’t make you smarter. But you’ll feel smarter.”

From all appearances, Louisiana’s optometrists have been resting well at their local Holiday Inn Express – so much so, they now feel smart enough to perform various surgical procedures on the eye that have always been reserved for ophthalmologists.

Ophthalmologists are physicians who attended four years of medical school, finished an internship and underwent a three-year residency in eye surgery. All of that training adds up to about 17,000 hours over eight years or more.

Optometrists, on the other hand, are people to see for glasses, contacts and routine eye care. They get four years of training, but not in surgery and they are not medical doctors.

Nonetheless, these well-rested optometrists have persuaded legislators that, after a few days of training, they’ll be qualified to perform all kinds of surgical procedures. Currently, only medical doctors licensed by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners can perform invasive procedures on the eye.

As passed by the House and Senate, however, HB 1065 would allow optometrists to perform various ophthalmic surgery using scalpels, cryoprobes, lasers, electric cautery or ionizing radiation. Among the specific procedures the bill would permit is YAG laser capsulotomy, an outpatient treatment for cataracts, and laser peripheral iridotomy, a surgical treatment for glaucoma. The bill would wisely prohibit them from performing the sight-correcting LASEK or LASIK procedures, but I suspect that will be next. Optometrists in Oklahoma already can perform LASIK.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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