Under current law, anyone performing eye surgery in Louisiana must be a physician licensed to practice medicine by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. This requirement ensures that patients have the highest standards of surgical safety. However, if HB 527 becomes law, optometrists, who are not physicians, would be permitted to surgically operate on the eyes. Leaders within the state’s medical community warn that legislation allowing eye surgery without a medical degree places patients at grave risk.
Ophthalmologists—physicians and surgeons specializing in comprehensive eye care—are required to complete four years of medical school, followed by a one-year hospital internship and a minimum three-year surgical residency, totaling at least eight years and 17,000 of clinical training. Optometrists—who are not physicians—complete a four-year optometry school program focusing on basic eye care services such as vision exams, refractions, and contact lens fitting, but do not have a medical degree or the level of clinical training obtained through a surgical residency.
“Passage of HB 527 would be the medical equivalent of allowing a weekend novice pilot to fly a commercial 747 for a major airline,” said Alvaro O’Byrne, M.D., president of the Louisiana Ophthalmology Association. “When it comes to eye surgery, every patient deserves the best and safest care possible from qualified physicians who are trained surgeons. Would you really want someone other than the most highly trained physician to perform surgery on your eyes,” said O’Byrne.
The Health and Welfare Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives will hold a hearing on
HB 527 on April 17, 2013.