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Proposed Legislation Prompts Fight Between Optometrists, Ophthalmologists

The Idaho Chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee opened a recent legislative session by announcing,  “Next order of business is the first epic battle of the Optometric Physician Licensing Act.”  The Committee had convened to consider legislation that would expand the scope of practice for eye doctors and allow them to perform laser-assisted procedures.

The bill is controversial due to the fact that two very vocal groups are on competing sides of the issue: eye doctors insist that the legislation should pass and that they should be granted the ability to perform certain laser-assisted procedures in their offices; eye surgeons, on the other hand, disagree. They argue that eye doctors do not have sufficient training to perform these procedures and the ability to do so should remain solely in the purview of the eye surgeon cohort.

Optometrists (or eye doctors) provide vision and eye care, perform examinations, and prescribe contact lenses, glasses, and other treatments. Ophthalmologists (eye surgeons) are medical doctors who diagnose eye diseases and perform several types of surgeries.

The code governing Idaho’s optometrists hasn’t substantially changed since the 1980s, and proposed legislation would add definitions, remove outdated language, and reorganize the statute. One section of the bill would expand the scope of practice to allow optometrists to perform certain laser-assisted procedures.

Those supporting the bill pointed to six other states that adopted similar scope of practice expansions, some for as many as 20 years without incident. Opposition groups pointed to more than a dozen states that have considered and subsequently rejected similar bills in recent years over concern for public health.

One of the more controversial parts of the bill is the language that would expand the practice of optometrists: rather than enumerating specific procedures optometrists would be empowered to perform, it includes a list of 32 procedures they cannot do. Ophthalmologists (and their advocates, including the Idaho Society of Ophthalmology) claim that the exclusion list doesn’t go far enough and could allow optometrists to perform several hundred procedures they aren’t properly trained to do.

The Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee heard hours of testimony on the issue, much of which was somewhat contentious. The group is expected to vote on the matter sometime this week.

Medical Malpractice Representation

Proper training and continuing education for every health care professional who is permitted to perform procedures on patients are essential. Medical errors committed by ophthalmologists and optometrists can be serious, and even deadly. Infections, surgical mistakes, and failure to diagnose eye disease or dysfunction could lead to serious consequences including injury and temporary or permanent loss of vision. If you or a loved sustained an injury due to what may have been medical negligence of any kind, contact our firm. Our experienced and aggressive medical malpractice attorneys stake their reputation on fighting to get victims the compensation that they deserve.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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