Editorial: Upcoming battle worth keeing your eye on

A battle royal is shaping up in the state Legislature that’s “worth keeping an eye on.”

House Bill 527, authored by state Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe, would allow optometrists to perform certain eye procedures

and write prescriptions for drugs that heretofore were reserved only for ophthalmologists.

What’s the difference between the two?

An ophthalmologist is an M.D. — a

doctor of medicine. They are trained through four years of medical

school, a year of internship

and three years of hospital-based residency. By their education,

as affirmed by current state law, they are entrusted to perform

delicate surgeries and other procedures and to exercise medical

judgment in prescribing drugs that include narcotics.

An optometrist is an O.D. — a

doctor of optometry. They are trained through a four-year college of

optometry. They diagnose

eye diseases and visual conditions and provide such services as

examinations, eyeglass prescriptions and contact lens fittings.

The Hoffman bill would allow

optometrists to wield scalpels, lasers and other instruments to perform a

number of surgical

eyelid procedures such as photorefractive keratectomy, better

known as LASEK, and treat such conditions as lesions, cysts

and glaucoma. They would have expanded authority to prescribe

certain drugs and give needle injections into the eye and use

local or regional anesthetics in performing surgery — and, if

desired, bring in an anesthesiologist for certain procedures,

It would also give the State Optometry Board newfound authority to

define an optometrist’s scope of practice, including surgery.

Hoffman says there is a need to expand services to optometrists in many rural areas of the state where there are no practicing

ophthalmologists.

Optometrists in Oklahoma and Kentucky can perform some surgeries. Other states are considering legislation that would give

optometrists the ability to perform procedures that have been the domain of opthalmologists.

Ophthalmologists counter that their rigor and length of training prepare them better for surgical procedures and to properly

dispense drugs that include narcotics.

In opposing the bill, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has said, “Surgery involves more than performing procedures; it

includes deciding who does and does not need to have a procedure done, involves patient education and requires the ability

to identify and manage complications.”

The academy says the bill substitutes an optometry school program ... ‘‘for current physician-training standards requiring

thousands of hours of medical education, clinical and surgical experience and other training.”

Ophthalmologists also believe their oversight board, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners, is better equipped to

handle issues than the State Optometry Board.

The House Committee for Health and Welfare approved the bill 12-7 last week. It is scheduled for debate on the House floor

Tuesday.

While both optometrists and ophthalmologists have already button-holed their state legislators and employed lobbyists to make

their points, it’s likely consumers have yet to weigh in. They now have a little more than 24 hours to contact their state

representatives to let their feelings be known.

Eyesight, arguably, is the greatest

sense for humans. Very few of us go through life without having to have

some sort of correction

for this precious gift.

We believe the best fate for HB 527 is for it to be tabled and the issue be given greater study by a reputable, neutral party

before such a dramatic sea-change in who performs certain eye procedures in Louisiana takes place.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.