Short-Cuts in Health Care Pose a Risk for Wyoming Patients

The following piece by Dr. Anne Miller is paid for by the Wyoming Ophthalmological Society:

There’s a time when short cuts are appropriate, like taking a quicker route after work to get home faster, or ordering take-out to put dinner on the table for your family.  However, health care is not one of them, especially when it comes to our eyes.  Vision ranks among the most precious of people’s senses.  That is why misguided legislation currently being considered by the Wyoming State Legislature is so important to understand.  

Wyoming lawmakers in Cheyenne are now debating whether to take a short-cut in eye surgery training and allow optometrists to perform delicate surgery on your eyes and those of your loved ones.  At hand is a proposal, Senate File (SF) 55, which would give optometrists the authority to perform eye surgery.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists both serve very important roles in caring for people’s eyes and vision.  In fact, the difference between the two can be confusing.  Some of what they do is the same, but, the reality is, there are fundamental differences in training and qualifications that make each well suited to their specific duties.

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors, also known as physicians, and surgeons.  These physician/surgeons complete a four-year medical school program and four years of hospital clinical and surgical training.  This training involves treating thousands of patients, and performing surgery on real live patient’s eyes under the supervision of highly skilled doctors.  They are also trained to take care of surgical complications.  On the other hand, optometrists complete a four-year eye care program concentrated on vision exams, eye disease and a few basic nonsurgical procedures.  Optometry students do not have 3-5 years of intensive surgical training on patients, as ophthalmologists do.

Yet some optometrists are trying to convince legislators that they could do eye surgery with lasers and scalpels with as little as a 32-hour course over a weekend, which does not involve treating real live people.  Wyoming deserves to maintain its current high standard of eye care, and laws should not be changed on a whim for ease and expediency – especially when the eye health of thousands of Wyoming citizens is at stake.  A recent survey of 500 Wyoming voters found that 88% would prefer to have surgery on or near their eye performed by a licensed medical doctor who is trained in surgery. 

Proponents of SF55 claim there is an access problem when it comes to eye surgery in this state. However, in the same survey mentioned earlier, 89% said they felt they had adequate access to necessary eye services.  Furthermore, the procedures these optometrists say they want to do is not urgent.  If a drive to the nearest qualified eye surgeon is needed, Wyomingites are willing and able.  They drive out of town to go to Walmart, to watch a Cowboys game or see their cardiologist.  Surely a drive to see an eye surgeon with appropriate training (an ophthalmologist) is not an inconvenience when it comes to protecting their most precious sense.

Optometrists play a key role in protecting the eye health of Wyoming patients and their families.  They are on the front lines of diagnosing eye disease and correcting vision – areas of practice in which they have substantial training.  However, they do not have the necessary training in the more than one hundred surgical procedures this bill would allow them to perform. There are simply no short cuts when it comes to acquiring the medical knowledge and surgical skills to perform delicate eye surgery.

This is not a turf battle between two professions that serve a similar patient population.  This is simply about standing up for what’s best for patients who need eye care in Wyoming.  Senate File 55 poses an unnecessary threat to patient safety and the quality of surgical care that Wyoming citizens now enjoy.  We urge you to please, contact your State Representative now, and let them know — SF55 is “Bad Medicine” and urge them to vote “NO.” Visit www.safesurgerywy.com to learn more.

Anne Miller, MD, is an ophthalmologist who practices in Cheyenne.  She currently serves as President of the Wyoming Ophthalmological Society.  Lisa Finkelstein, DO, is a urologist in private practice in the Jackson area.  She currently serves as President of the Wyoming Medical Society.

Paid for by the Wyoming Ophthalmological Society

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