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Dominion Post

Section: Opinion

August 19, 2009

Clash over scope of optometrists needs to be reworked in Legislature

It’s no surprise that optometrists and ophthalmologists didn’t see eye to eye on former House Bill 2978.

Though this bill, which relates to the practice of optometry, will probably reappear in next year’s regular legislative session with a different number and different language, it’s still out of focus.

State optometrists argue that allowing them to practice what they are “trained” to do will not only provide better access to eyecare, but will make it more affordable.

Ophthalmologists claim that optometrists want to perform surgery without proper training, let alone a medical degree.


Far be it from us to slight the gifted work of optometrists, who provide primary eye care services, such as exams, diagnoses and treatments.

But, we oppose any measure that opens the door to anyone to perform surgery who is unqualified under state standards.

As the chair of the department of ophthalmology at WVU’s School of Medicine put it, “I would advise us not to lower qualifications.”

Weekend coursework does not qualify anyone to do anything approaching an invasive procedure.

Seminars on local anesthesia, emergency surgery and suturing or even four-hourlong, hands-on sessions do not make one a medical doctor.

Despite whatever new procedures are being taught optometrists or whatever new technology is available to them, nothing substitutes for medical school.

If there is a meeting of the minds in the future on allowing optometrists to perform certain noninvasive procedures, this bill may merit further consideration.

It’s encouraging that these two groups of professionals are meeting regularly to find common ground on this bill, but we don’t envision the status quo changing much.

We don’t pretend to fully understand many explanations about surgery. However, we do know enough to trust surgeons to define what’s surgery and what’s not.

Especially professional ophthalmologists, who undergo an additional four years of extensive, often grueling training, to perform surgery on eyes.

To allow anyone who has not received this training to operate on anyone’s eyes is fuzzy around the edges at best, blind to the facts at worst.

Access to ophthalmologists is an issue for many of the state’s residents. The rural nature of West Virginia lends itself to such problems.

This is a problem that merits further study and solutions.

But lowering standards to give optometrists a license to perform procedures that an ophthalmologist is trained for, lacks vision.