Letter: Bills changing surgery standards a danger to patient safety

Crystal Mirza writes that Senate Bill 568 and House Bill 1065 would provide improved patient access to care by allowing optometrists to perform ophthalmic surgery (Readers’ views, April 25, 2014). She describes these procedures as “noninvasive.”

In fact, these bills would allow optometrists to perform more than 120 different surgical procedures inside the eye, behind the eye and around the eye by scalpel, laser or injection. Her use of the word noninvasive betrays a lack of understanding of the surgery and a lack of respect for the complexity of the human body. Surgery by definition is invasive.

Ophthalmologists are doctors of medicine who have spent eight to 10 years or 647 weeks in medical education, many of those hours in operating rooms learning surgery under the supervision of experienced teachers. Optometrists have an important role, and ophthalmologists and optometrists often work together in the care of people with eye problems. But optometrists are not trained to do any surgery, unless you count watching videos and operating on cadaver eyes as surgical training.

Louisiana is ranked 15th in the country in number of ophthalmologists per 100,000 population, ahead of every southeastern and southwestern state except Florida. There is not an access problem for Louisiana residents who need eye surgery. In national polling and in Louisiana polls, more than 90 percent of respondents say they would want a medical doctor, an ophthalmologist, to do their eye surgery.

It is dangerous in any profession when legislation replaces education. This is a patient safety issue. When a person enters a medical facility for treatment, he or she should have a reasonable expectation that the person performing the treatment has the training and expertise to do that procedure. The people of Louisiana deserve nothing less. Please ask your senator and representative to vote no on SB568 and HB1065.

Dr. Bradley C. Black

president, Louisiana Ophthalmology Association

Baton Rouge