Groups at odds over eye surgery law

Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 10:49 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The Arkansas General Assembly passed a bill during the 2019 legislative session allowing optometrists to perform five procedures they could not do before.

But a group of ophthalmologists are hoping to get a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot to repeal the law.

The ophthalmologists with Safe Surgery Arkansas and optometrists with Arkansans for Healthy Eyes say their positions on the matter is all about patient care.

Optometrist Dr. Matt Jones, who is with Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, practices in both Blytheville and Osceola and believes Act 579 of 2019 benefit patients.

“Those in-office procedures, again would allow patients in our communities to receive the care there in our offices,” Jones said. “Optometry is the primary eye care providers in the country.”

Ophthalmologist Dr. Laurie Barber with Safe Surgery Arkansas said people came to her voicing their concerns.

“I, actually, as an ophthalmologist, had patients coming to me worried about their family members and friends going to a doctor that was not a medical doctor, having them perform surgery they had not been trained to do,” Barber said.

The procedures include:

  • Injections excluding intravenous or intraocular
  • Incisions and curettage of chalazion
  • Removal and biopsy of skin lesions
  • Laser capsulotomy
  • Laser trabeculoplasty

“Optometrists do not go to medical school, and do not have surgery training,” Barber said. “Even though they go to optometry school, they do not have surgical training.”

Dr. Jones says while Ophthalmologists do go to medical school and specialize in their field, optometrists spend four years in college and another four years in optometry school, which specifically focuses on the eyes.

“All four years are related to the eyes, any organ system that are related to the eyes and anatomy,” Jones said.

He said the procedure in Act 579 are taught to optometrists all over the country, and they are trained to perform the procedures.

He also believes the change by the legislature was something overdue.

“It wasn’t a hasty decision, and that’s what we elected our officials to do is to make decision,” Jones said.

Dr. Barber thinks that special interest groups pushed for the law and is fearful for the sight of Arkansans.

“I think that was a mistake for the people of Arkansas because I’m afraid for their vision,” Barber said.

Safe Surgery Arkansas submitted signatures to the Secretary of State office to put a referendum on the November ballot or repeal the law.

Arkansans for Healthy Eyes is challenging that effort in court.

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