Is Oklahoma Eye Procedure the Focus for Future Med-Mal Claims’

March 2, 2005

Leaders of the nation’s medical and osteopathic associations met in Oklahoma City Wednesday to protest a one-of-a-kind Oklahoma law and regulation that reportedly allows optometrists to perform eye surgery with a scalpel.

“We’re here to urge the Oklahoma legislature to strike down the Optometry Board’s rule allowing non-physicians to perform delicate eye surgery,” said William Hazel, M.D., American Medical Association Trustee at a press conference at the state capitol. “A vote against optometrists performing eye surgery is a vote for patient safety.”

Oklahoma is reportedly the only state in the nation that allows non-physicians to perform eye surgery.

The Oklahoma Board of Examiners in Optometry will meet next week to make their preliminary rule permanent — allowing optometrists to perform literally dozens of scalpel surgical procedures.

The procedures reportedly include use of the scalpel and insertion of needles directly into the eye. If the state legislature does not vote to overturn the regulation, the quality and safety of surgical eye care for Oklahoma’s patients will reportedly be at risk.

“The chasm between the education of ophthalmologists and optometrists cannot be bridged by writing laws,” said Susan Day, M.D., American Academy of Ophthalmology president.

“Ophthalmologists complete four years of medical or osteopathic school, a one year hospital internship and three years of specialized medical and surgical training before undertaking any unsupervised surgical procedure. Optometrists attend a four-year optometry program before being licensed to conduct eye exams and order glasses.”

“This is about the quality of health care that patients receive,” said Dr.
Philip Shettle, an osteopathic ophthalmologist and President-elect of the American Osteopathic Association.

“It’s about an urgent need to protect patient safety and quality of care. Optometrists want to gain the right to perform these scalpel surgical procedures via the political and regulatory process. We seek to guard patient safety and uphold quality of care. Only in Oklahoma are non-physicians allowed to perform surgery on patients. It is the objective of the medical communities to raise public awareness of the long-term negative impact that the optometric scalpel surgery regulation will have on patient care in Oklahoma. Our goal is to encourage Oklahoma legislators to step in and reject the optometric scalpel regulation.”

The American Medical Association, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Osteopathic Association, American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons are reportedly focused on preserving patient safety and quality of care for all of Oklahoma’s surgical eye care patients.

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