We, as Americans, aspire to be great. It’s why we lead the world in creativity, innovation, and economic growth. Yet, occasionally, our efforts have unintended and potentially dangerous consequences.
Here’s a good example: A proposed change to Georgia law that would allow optometrists to treat patients with injections in and around the eyes.
As the president of the Medical Association of Georgia, which represents physicians in every specialty and practice setting, I believe that this idea, albeit well intended, could place thousands of Georgians at risk of blindness and other serious eye health complications.
The proposed legislation allows optometrists (not be confused with ophthalmologists or plastic surgeons, who are physicians) to make injections and perform other delicate procedures in and around a patient’s eye or eyelid, procedures they simply aren’t qualified to perform.
The eye is obviously one of our most sensitive and important organs. And we should never cut corners when it comes to any aspect of our health care, but this is especially true when it comes to our eyes and our vision.
I applaud optometrists. They play an important role when it comes to basic eye care. Optometrists are trained to detect serious eye health issues, and they fit patients for glasses, contact lenses and similar corrective vision devices.
But sticking a hypodermic needle into or near a patient’s eye requires a level of expertise that should be reserved for physician specialists with the requisite, and far more considerable, education, training and experience. In fact, these procedures are so unique and require such great precision that many physicians won’t attempt to perform them.
It is also worth noting that any mistakes occurring during procedures that are conducted in or near the eye can have particularly dire consequences, including infections, blurred vision, hemorrhaging and the loss of sight.
As a physician who has cared for patients in this state for more than 30 years, I agree that we should aspire to ensure that every Georgian has access to the medical care they need. But I am also confident (and extremely concerned) that passing legislation to expand optometrists’ scope of practice in dramatic ways would undermine patient care and could have disastrous results.
Georgians deserve access to the best medical care in the world. When it comes to procedures that are performed in or around the eye, that means access to a physician who has the requisite education and training and experience.
That is why physicians in Georgia are calling for state lawmakers to oppose any legislation that would allow optometrists to treat patients with injections in and around the eyes.
Steven M. Walsh, M.D., is president of the Medical Association of Georgia.