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Bill would allow your optometrist to give you laser eye surgery

Politics

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Therapeutic laser | Courtesy image

BOISE — A new bill could allow your eye doctor to perform laser eye surgery, and some eye surgeons are not happy about it.

The Optometric Physician Licensing Act HB 317, is a House bill supported by The Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing. It would allow optometrists to perform certain laser eye surgeries once they’ve met examination and experience requirements. Eye M.D.s of Idaho, a group of Idaho ophthalmologists, are calling the bill dangerous.

“This bill poses an incredible risk to Idahoans and ignores the importance of medical education and training to perform surgery,” Dr. James Earl, Retina Specialists of Idaho, said in a news release from Eye M.D.s of Idaho.

Julie Eavenson, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensing, said this bill is meant to bring Idaho’s licensing standards up to what the industry is currently doing.

“We want to make sure that our laws and rules are as up to date as possible. And the reason that we’re looking at them is because the governor has said — and the Legislature — ‘You need to have minimum qualifications. You need to protect the public, but you need to remove barriers.’ So when we open this stuff up, there is input from (the) industry with regard to some of those scope of practice issues, and that’s what this is,” Eavenson said.

Eye M.D.s of Idaho expressed concern the bill would put patients at risk by lowering the standards of eye surgery.

“Would you want your heart surgeon or the orthopedic surgeon performing your hip replacement to have skipped medical school and surgical residency? Of course not,” Earl said in the news release. “That is the same reason that you do not want an optometrist to perform surgery on your eyes. Yet some optometrists believe they can learn to perform eye surgery by just completing a 32-hour weekend course.”

Dr. Dennis Radford, an optometrist at Snake River Eye Associates Of Shelley, said there shouldn’t be a concern about the quality of care patients will receive.

“Any doctor can’t just pick up and start using therapeutic lasers for whatever purpose they want. You have to be certified to do that. Just as an ophthalmologist, you have to have the training and education to do it,” Radford said.

Under this bill, optometrists wishing to offer laser treatments for their patients need to pass the laser and surgical procedures examination administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry. After that, they have to perform at least five laser procedures directly supervised by an ophthalmologist.

Radford said some optometrists finishing school have already started working and training with therapeutic lasers. Even then, not all are immediately going to begin offering laser procedures as part of their practice.

“It’s been 15, 16 years since I was in school. So did I have some laser training? Yes. But am I going to go out and buy a laser? No. I’m not,” Radford said. “I’m not just going to go out and buy a laser and start zapping patients.”

The Optometric Physician Licensing Act is currently up for debate in the House Health & Welfare Committee.

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