This editorial appeared in the Star-News
For years, ophthalmologists and optometrists together have met the various eye-care needs of North Carolinians. It's important to understand, however, that they are distinctly different professions. The N.C. General Assembly is considering greatly blurring that distinction, putting the health of patients at risk.
Like other health-care specialists, ophthalmologists are medical doctors who have gone on to receive years of advanced training in the medical and surgical care of the eye. Optometrists are not medical doctors, but are trained to screen for general eye health and to prescribe corrective lenses and treat some eye problems. In North Carolina, as in 46 other states, optometrists are not allowed to perform surgery.
Now, in a bout of blindness to common sense and safety, several of the honorables want to let optometrists perform surgery.
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States regulate the scope of practice of optometrists. Current North Carolina law defines optometry as "The examination of the human eye by any method, other than surgery, to diagnose, to treat, or to refer for consultation or treatment any abnormal condition of the human eye ..."
Bills in both the House and Senate would remove the "other than surgery" exemption. The bill goes on to list 28 surgical procedures that optometrists cannot perform, leaving about 200 procedures that, by state law, could be performed by a person who is not a trained surgeon. Some optometrists are lobbying hard for the new law. They want to perform certain surgeries for glaucoma, cataracts and lesions. Supporters of the bills say some people don't have easy access to ophthalmologists. If that's the case, we need to work on improving access to eye surgeons, not lower the standard of care.
(Kudos, by the way, to Republican state Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport -- a smart veterinarian who calls in a specialist when animal eye surgery is needed -- for making human patient safety a high priority).
Eye surgeons attend four years of medical school, then a year of hospital internship and three years of surgical residency. Forty percent of ophthalmologists then complete a two-year fellowship program. Optometrists attend four years of optometry school, and no post-graduate residency is required.
We want to be very clear: Our opposition is not meant to belittle optometrists, who provide excellent general eye care. They simply are not trained surgeons.
For the health and safety of the people of North Carolina, this legislation (House Bill 36 and Senate Bill 342) needs to be defeated.