• Protecting Patient Safety in the States

    Issue

    Optometry is undertaking an unprecedented assault on patient safety across the U.S. More than one-third of the nation is under attack as optometrists seek to legislate their way to broader surgical privileges. Each state is different. In some, the focus is on laser surgery. In others, injections and scalpel. Some states are forced to consider intentionally vague proposals that do not define or limit the breadth of optometry’s desired expansion.  

    What the Academy is doing 

    The Academy works closely in conjunction with state ophthalmic societies to advance the following key messages:  

    • Patient safety first. When it comes to eye surgery, every patient deserves the best and safest care possible from qualified medical doctors who are trained surgeons. 
    • There is a difference between ophthalmologists — medically trained physicians and surgeons with specialized training in eye care and diseases of the eye — and optometrists. Optometrists are not medical doctors. Ophthalmologists spend eight years or more honing their surgical and medical skills — four years of medical school, a one-year hospital internship and three years of surgical residency — completing thousands of cases under the supervision of a surgeon before they can practice independently. Optometrists, meanwhile, want to add surgical privileges by taking a weekend course that lacks hands-on training. 
    • Patients want their surgeries performed by medically trained surgeons. In patient-safety battleground North Carolina, 91 percent of those surveyed believe that patients deserve the best and safest surgical care possible from qualified medical doctors and surgeons — ophthalmologists. The tactics we used were varied yet effective. In Maryland, ophthalmologists used a vision-screening event in Annapolis to convey to legislators that it is dangerous to let optometrists perform scalpel and laser eye surgery. In North Carolina and Florida, we waged an aggressive campaign in the media to win public support for our side.  

    Next steps 

    We continue to proactively identify scope-expansion threats and work to educate lawmakers and patients of the dangers. We are identifying compelling patient stories to show the human side of optometric surgical mismanagement. And we continue to gather peer-reviewed evidence that reinforces the critical role of trained surgeons in surgery. We also continue to urge Academy members to maintain a well-fortified Surgical Scope Fund. The Surgical Scope Fund is ophthalmology’s best tool in the fight to keep surgery in properly trained hands. States heavily rely on the Surgical Scope Fund to provide financial and staff support for optometric scope-expansion battles.