NASHVILLE, Tenn.--()--The Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology is opposing a recently filed bill (SB220/HB555) which, as amended, would allow optometrists to inject local anesthesia into the delicate tissue surrounding the eye in order to perform surgery.
“Anytime a needle is placed near the eye, there are serious risks to the patient that require clinical experience and expert judgment. A surgical error of just a few millimeters can result in a punctured eyeball and catastrophic vision loss.”
The legislation would expand the optometrists’ scope of practice to allow them to inject anesthesia into the delicate tissues surrounding the eyelid. Optometrists are currently restricted to using topical anesthetic to remove what they call “lumps and bumps.” The legislation would allow optometrists to perform more advanced surgical procedures that require an injectable anesthetic.
“This legislation would create an unnecessary risk to patients and is a threat to the quality of surgical care in Tennessee,” said Dr. Ben Mahan, president of the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology. “Anytime a needle is placed near the eye, there are serious risks to the patient that require clinical experience and expert judgment. A surgical error of just a few millimeters can result in a punctured eyeball and catastrophic vision loss.”
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors and surgeons who spend eight years or more honing their surgical and medical skills. Their training includes four years of medical school, a one-year hospital internship and three years of surgical residency – completing around 17,000 hours of clinical training. In comparison, optometrists have completed four years of postgraduate studies that focus on primary eye care services such as eye exams and contact lens fittings. They complete approximately 2,000 patient-contact hours during four years of optometry school.
“Whether it is injections to prepare for surgery or the surgery itself, patients have a right to know that the individual performing the procedure is a qualified medical doctor and surgeon,” said Mahan. “What optometrists call ‘lumps and bumps’ are actually lesions and tumors, and they may be cancerous. Expertise in managing these types of serious complications is achieved through a multiyear surgical residency followed by years of clinical experience.”
Mahan pointed to a statewide survey of registered voters that shows that Tennesseans overwhelmingly support a current state law that requires those performing eye surgeries, including laser eye correction procedures, to have a medical degree – a requirement that prohibits optometrists from performing those surgeries. The survey was conducted on behalf of the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology to gauge public awareness of the difference in training between ophthalmologists and optometrists, and also to test opinions on loosening the current regulations on who can perform eye surgical procedures.
Among the findings:
- After hearing message points on both sides of the issue, 79 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree” with the Tennessee requirement “that all surgeries – including laser eye surgeries – must be performed by a medical doctor.” An additional 11 percent said they “somewhat agree” with the statement, resulting in a 90 percent agreement rate.
- While 76 percent correctly identified ophthalmologists as having medical degrees, 68 percent of respondents incorrectly think that optometrists also are medical doctors.
The survey, conducted by Parker Consulting Group of Birmingham, Ala., polled a randomly selected sample of 600 registered Tennessee voters. Its margin of error is plus or minus 4.49 percent.
About the Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology
The Tennessee Academy of Ophthalmology (TNAO) is the only association for ophthalmologists in Tennessee, and its members represent all areas of eye health care and surgery. The TNAO’s mission is to advocate for the best possible eye health care for Tennesseans, serve the professional needs of ophthalmologists through legislative advocacy and member services, and assure the public’s direct access to medical doctors trained in ophthalmology.