Editor: Our vision is precious and vital to our overall health and wellbeing, but Colorado lawmakers are considering legislation right now that puts our eyesight at risk by allowing health providers without adequate training or experience to perform complex surgeries on our eyes. HB 1233 would expand optometrists’ scope of practice to allow them to perform surgeries that have been traditionally performed by highly-trained ophthalmologists, threatening the health and safety of Colorado patients and risking their vision. Unfortunately, I’ve experiencedthe nightmarish results of such a policy firsthand.
I’ve had issues with my eyesight since 2014 when I required cataract surgery and lens implants, and in April of 2018, I started experiencing even more problems with my vision with sudden onset floaters that were like sheets of gauze covering my eyes. I was desperate to get my vision back to where it was, and through word of mouth, I learned of an optometrist in Louisiana who performed laser surgery and claimed to have success in cases like mine. Unaware of the important distinctions between optometrists and ophthalmologists and trusting that this optometrist had the proper qualifications to perform the surgery, I traveled to Louisiana for the treatment. This practice is not legal in Texas where I live, nor should it be.
Before even bothering to examine my eyes, this optometrist began performing a laser surgery procedure that took 2.5 hours. The day after, my eyelids were swollen shut and I was hardly able to see. When I went to my ophthalmologist and she examined my eyes, she was visibly shaken as she looked at the damage.
Four years, four extraordinarily difficult surgeries, and $35,885 later, my vision is at least close to what it was before this nightmare, but it will never be the same.
Ophthalmologists who typically perform surgeries undergo a minimum of eight years of school, including medical school, as well as hospital residency and surgical training, resulting in a minimum of eight years of training involving hundreds of surgical procedures. Optometrists like the one who performed my laser surgery can become “certified” to perform eye surgery after only attending a weekend simulator course and without ever seeing the surgery performed on a live, human eye. Optometrists are not trained surgeons, nor are they medical doctors.
There’s no doubt that optometrists provide critical eye care to their patients, but we need them to practice what they’re trained to do, and that certainly is not surgery like the one I had that can result in permanent damage to one’s vision.
Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Seven states including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, and Wyoming have expanded optometrists’ scope of practice to allow them to perform surgeries, and the data paints a clear picture of how dangerous and costly this practice can be. A JAMA study that compares laser surgery outcomes in Oklahoma between ophthalmologists and optometrists showed that eye surgeries conducted by optometrists were more than two times as likely to require additional corrective surgery. 35% of laser trabeculoplasty surgeries performed by optometrists needed to be repeated in Oklahoma. This is costly and dangerous for patients, and we need to ensure that only physicians with proper training are able to put lasers, needles or scalpels near our eyes.
I share my story to bring awareness to the seriousness of this issue so that other unsuspecting patients might be spared from the nightmare I had to experience. I strongly urge Colorado lawmakers to amend HB 1233 to protect the vision of Colorado patients.
—Charlotte Allison, via firstname.lastname@example.org