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Proposed change to relax eye care regulations will have dangerous consequences

Michael Green
Michael Green

There’s a movement afoot in Georgia’s General Assembly to allow optometrists to treat patients with injections in and around the eyes. I think it’s a very bad idea, and so do numerous medical professionals and organizations.

But for some reason, this issue is still alive and in front of Georgia lawmakers. That’s despite the fact that legislation proposing this dangerous practice has been voted down by a House committee twice in the current legislative session.

The idea won’t go away, kept alive by lawmakers who have no business changing medical requirements designed to keep patients safe. Our respected leaders of the Georgia House and Senate must step up to protect the health of Georgians.

Here’s why I oppose the relaxing of medical standards: It puts patients at risk. It’s that simple. Optometrists are not physicians. They can do eye exams and fit patients for glasses and contact lenses, but they are not trained physicians.

They have not been to medical school or undergone eight years of advanced medical training. They have no business doing the work of those who have.

Medical experts in the United States agree. That’s why the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Georgia Society of Ophthalmology, the Georgia Society of the American College of Surgeons and the Medical Association of Georgia all oppose the idea of permitting untrained and unqualified people to undertake highly specialized, and in some cases, risky procedures.

Treating eye diseases is a complicated specialty. To master the field, ophthalmologists must complete about 17,000 hours of training. That’s almost 10 times the training given optometrists.

Injections are inherently risky. The 30 hours of injection training optometrists would get are inadequate, to say the least. What’s more, that training does not cover how to handle the emergency situations that could result from lack of knowledge or inexperience. In short, allowing inadequately trained personnel to perform these procedures would needlessly put thousands of patients at risk.

Even worse, the bill would expand the therapeutic authority of optometrists to prescribe any pharmaceutical agent “related to” diseases or conditions of the eye. This means optometrists could treat diabetes and hypertension. That makes no medical sense whatsoever. They simply aren’t prepared to do that safely.

In 35 states, including Georgia, optometrists are restricted to their customary work in eye examinations and providing glasses and contact lenses. There’s good reason to limit their activities to their areas of competence.

If passed, this legislation will subject unsuspecting Georgians to a serious set of potential complications, including hemorrhages, infections and even blindness. The unintended consequences of this proposed legislation are dangerous, indeed. Our government leaders need to put a stop to this now.

The nation’s medical experts have established rigorous standards for eye care. It is not up to lawmakers to relax those standards under any circumstances.

Michael Greene, M.D., is the past president of the Medical Association of Georgia and past chairman of the Council on Legislation, Medical Association of Georgia.

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