Va. bill would broaden scope of practice for optometrists

Health

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill will soon go before a Senate committee that has some eye doctors raising eyebrows.

It’s intended to save patients time and money, but opponents fear it could put patients at risk.

The bill is SB511. It widens the scope of practice for optometrists to include surgery to treat styes, chalazia or anterior segment lesions.To view the bill, click HERE.

Dr. Suzanne Everhart doesn’t see eye-to-eye with it.

Everhart is an ophthalmologist.

Unlike optometrists, who perform eye exams and contact fittings, she’s a trained medical doctor.

She says the qualifications for the two professions vary greatly.

“This is a radical departure from general eye care to surgery. One doesn’t fly a hang glider and then the next day jump into a 747,” said Everhart.

The bill has a long list of co-patrons on both sides of the aisle.

One of them is Del. Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield).

Robinson has owned and operated an optometric practice in Chesterfield County for the last 30 years.

She said in many areas of the commonwealth, patients wait up to five weeks or drive more than an hour to see an ophthalmologist. The legislation would save them a trip to a second doctor in certain situations.

“SB511 will save patients and their insurance companies time and money while ensuring that only qualified eye care providers perform these procedures,” Robinson said in a statement.

Robinson said the bill would not permit an optometrist to perform major surgery on the eyeball. She said people in her line of work have been trained to perform the procedures laid out in the bill.

“As primary care doctors, optometrist are clinically trained to perform the removal of styes, chalazia, eyelid lesions and to administer injections,” she said. “Colleges of optometry have been educating their students on these procedures since the mid-1990’s.”

Robinson said Virginia would be joining more than a dozen other states that allow optometrists to perform “minor surgical procedures” or administer injections.

But Everhart still has concerns.

“There is no minor surgical procedure. Every surgery has the potential to become a major complication,” she said.

SB511 will be heard Thursday in the Senate Committee on Education and Health. The meeting begins at 8 a.m. in Senate Room A in the Pocahontas Building.

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