Optometrists, are individuals trained in the occupation of measuring eyesight, prescribing corrective lenses and detecting eye diseases. Optometrist are not required to be medical doctors. Ophthalmologists, are individuals who must have a medical degree and must have several years of additional training in the treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye. Both optometrists and ophthalmologists are licensed and controlled by their own State Boards.
The Bill’s controversy centers around the question: “Will the health and safety of the citizens of West Virginia be properly protected if the State permits licensed optometrists to perform invasive eye surgery when our present State law limits the performance of these procedures and surgeries to licensed ophthalmologists?”
Stated another way: Will the citizens of West Virginia be subject to irreparably harm if individuals who do not hold medical degrees and who have not undergone several additional years of intensive training in eye surgery, proper surgery techniques, laser usage and post operative treatment of patients be permitted to perform surgery and treatments inside an individual’s eye when West Virginia presently reserves the right to perform advanced eye treatment to medical doctors, who have post-doctorate training specifically in the human eye and who have successfully met the stringent requirements of the State’s Medical Board.
The answer to this question is not simple. From my perspective, the Legislature is required to maintain our present State law, unless it can be proven that our rules and laws are not in the best interest of our citizens. A change in our laws should only be permitted when it can be proven that the change will benefit our citizens. If a change in the law decreases the protection of our citizens health or puts into question our present standards of medical service, responsibility for the medical service provided or liability for the medical services performed then it is the duty of the Legislature to defeat the proposed bill.
Yes, I believe that there are procedures both of these licensed professionals can perform equally well and that a change in our present rules and laws may be needed. However, I also believe that our eyesight is one of our most precious possessions and the care of our eyes must be given only to those who are truly qualified, properly trained, and actively licensed professionals.
Delegate Patti E. Schoen can be reached at 304-340-3141(capitol phone) or 304-415-0411 (cell), or by e-mail at pschoen@mail,wvnet.edu. For more information please check out www.pattischoen.us and www.legis.state.wv.us.