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Optometrists push back against survey

Bill Britt

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A recent statewide survey of 500 likely voters published by Alabama Political Reporter found that an overwhelming majority of those polled oppose a proposed change in state law that would allow individuals who are not medical doctors to perform eye surgery. Nearly 80 percent of Alabamians oppose such a move, according to the survey.

Alabamians voice grave concern over legislation that allows eye surgery by non-medical doctors

Senate Bill 114, if passed, allows optometrists to perform hundreds of eye surgeries, which are currently only permitted to be done by ophthalmologists.

Auburn-based optometrist Rob Pate said the survey is a “misrepresentation and misleading monologue from ophthalmology with their published article before that vote takes place.”

“We are not seeking to expand our scope of practice to treat conditions we currently do not,” said Rob Pate, the immediate past president of the Alabama Optometric Association, in testimony before the Senate. “We are not asking to take patients to the operating room. We are not seeking to treat any condition that could not be treated in our exam chairs or offices. We are simply asking you to allow us to treat the ocular disease we encounter daily with the best in technology available.”

However, Dr. Stephen Kelly, president of the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology holds a different opinion.

“The medical community in Alabama is very concerned about allowing people who do not have a medical degree and the necessary surgical experience to operate on and around the eyes,” Kelly said. “The margin of error when using needles, scalpels or lasers on the eye is so small that a mistake of just one millimeter could have devastating results for the patient. The patient safety and quality surgical outcomes would be threatened if surgery were allowed by anyone who is not a medical doctor with proper training.”

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“We are primary care eye doctors and consider the procedures we are seeking to employ to be just that — procedures requiring no general anesthesia, no operating room, no need to delay caring for patients and bog down ophthalmologists from performing the surgeries we cannot perform,” Pate said.

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What is the difference between an optometrist and an ophthalmologist?

“Optometrists are eye care professionals who provide primary vision care ranging from sight testing and correction to the diagnosis, treatment and management of vision changes,” according to Medical Eye Center.

An optometrist is not a medical doctor.

“An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor and differ from optometrists in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat. As a medical doctor who has completed college and at least eight years of additional medical training, an ophthalmologist is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. An ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases perform eye surgery,” according to Medical Eye Center.

“We will continue to come back to the Legislature until this passes,” Pate said. “It is only a matter of time. Look across the country at the number of states that are implementing these procedures under optometry’s purview. It is because this is in optometry’s wheelhouse, and we are best positioned to care for these patients in a timely and effective manner.”

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