Florida Lawmakers Can’t See Eye to Eye on the Role of Optometrists: Here Is What Patients Can Do to Protect Themselves from Malpractice
A midwife can manage your care during pregnancy and assist with an uncomplicated birth, but she cannot perform a C-section. A physical therapist can recommend exercises to help you recover from a knee injury, but he cannot perform a knee replacement surgery. In other words, many of the healthcare professionals who help us stay healthy are not medical doctors. Nurses, radiologists, dental hygienists, and medical assistants, among others, might be responsible for most or all of our care across numerous visits, but when we require treatments that exceed the scope of practice of these other healthcare workers, they must refer us to a medical doctor for the more complex treatment. Until very recently, any type of surgery was exclusively within the scope of practice of physicians; for anyone who did not hold an M.D. degree, no matter how much other education that person might possess, would clearly be a case of malpractice. In the past few years, several Florida bills, including House Bill 1037 and Senate Bill 1168, have sought to expand the scope of practice of optometrists, who are not medical doctors, to enable them to perform some types of minor eye surgeries.
Opposing Views in Florida’s “Eyeball Wars”
Optometrists and ophthalmologists are in the business of caring for people’s eyes and improving their vision, but ophthalmologists have an M.D. degree, whereas optometrists do not. After graduating from college, ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school, plus a one-year residency in general medicine, plus one or more years of ophthalmology residency. Optometrists, by contrast, complete four years of optometry school, where they learn to diagnose vision problems and to treat them with glasses and contact lenses. If an optometrist determines that a patient needs surgery to correct his or her vision, the optometrist refers the patient to an ophthalmologist.
Physician shortages, insufficient health insurance coverage, and high costs mean that many Florida patients who need eye surgery cannot get it. Thus, the controversial bills propose to allow optometrists to train to perform certain types of eye surgery. The new legislation would not allow them to make incisions in the eyes or eyelids; the included surgeries would be things like surgical removal of foreign objects from the eye or laser surgery to correct vision. Opponents of the bills claim that it is dangerous to allow non-physicians to perform any kind of eye surgery. The proposed surgery training courses for optometrists would take only 30 hours, a very small fraction of the years of surgical training undergone by ophthalmologists. Critics point to complications and malpractice suits in other states that have permitted optometrists to perform surgeries. As a patient, the best way to keep your eyes safe is to ask for a referral to an ophthalmologist if you have any kind of eye problem more serious than just needing a new glasses prescription.
Contact Us About Your Medical Malpractice Case
Staying within one’s scope of practice is just one part of the standard of care that healthcare professionals owe to their patients. Contact Bundza & Rodriguez, P.A. in Daytona Beach, Florida for a consultation if you think that your injuries are the result of negligence or errors on the part of a healthcare worker.