Survey Says New Mexicans Not in Favor of HB 199

March 7, 2005

The New Mexico Medical Society, the state’s professional organization for medical and osteopathic doctors, on Monday released the results of a statewide consumer survey regarding House Bill 199, which reportedly seeks to allow optometrists (who are non-medical doctors) to perform a multitude of laser and invasive eye surgeries.

A public hearing and vote on HB 199 was expected to take place later Monday in the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee.

The random telephone survey of 400 New Mexico residents was conducted March 3, by the survey research firm Strategy One, and has an error rate of +/- 4.9%.

“To summarize, this survey shows that New Mexicans are confused about which type of eye care professionals are actual medical doctors and they feel very strongly that non-MD’s should not be operating on their eyes,” said Kathleen Blake, president of the New Mexico Medical Society. “The bottom line is that New Mexicans want clarity about who will operate on them.”

Primary findings from the survey include:

* 94 percent of those surveyed say it is “very important” that an eye care specialist performing surgery be a licensed medical doctor.
Asked, “If you or your family member needed eye surgery, how important is it to you that the eye care specialist who would perform the surgery be a licensed medical doctor?”, 94 percent of respondents answered “very important,” and an additional 4 percent answered “somewhat important.”

* Large majorities believe that only licensed-MD eye specialists should perform surgical procedures and injections. 78 percent of those surveyed say that only ophthalmologists — licensed MDs — should perform “laser surgery to reshape the cornea,” 76 percent for “laser surgery to treat eye disease,” and 64 percent for “injections of drugs in and around the eyeball, including Botox.”

* However: Half of those surveyed are misinformed about which eye care specialists are, in fact, licensed medical doctors. Optometrists (often referred to in New Mexico as “optometric physicians”) are not licensed medical doctors. Yet when asked to identify which among various types of eye care specialists ” … are licensed medical doctors, meaning they had to graduate from medical school and then spend additional years as an intern and in a residency program,” one in two wrongly believe that optometrists and optometric physicians are licensed medical doctors.

* 89 percent of those who required eye surgery in the past five years say they’ve experienced no problems finding a medical doctor in the state to perform the operation. Asked, “Did you experience any problems finding a medical doctor in New Mexico to perform the surgery?”, 89% of those who have had such surgery responded no. (Because eye surgery by non-MDs is presently illegal in the state — and assuming no illegal eye surgery was performed by non-MDs — the overwhelming majority of respondents had no difficulty finding an ophthalmologist in New Mexico to perform the operation.)

* More than seven out of 10 New Mexicans oppose pending legislation allowing optometrists to perform certain types of eye surgery.
Informed that ophthalmologists are trained MDs and that optometrists are not — then told that, “There is proposed legislation in New Mexico that would allow optometrists to perform certain types of eye surgery” and asked whether they would support or oppose the measure, 73 percent say they would oppose the legislation (56 percent “strongly oppose,” 17 percent “somewhat oppose.”) Only 16 percent would support the measure (8 percent “strongly,” 8 percent “somewhat”).

“This legislative train is headed in the wrong direction,” added Blake.
“We hope these results serve as a wake-up call for legislators considering this bill — New Mexicans want a swift and resolute defeat of House Bill 199.”

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