BATON ROUGE - The battle has been going on for two years in the Louisiana legislature, and Gov. Bobby Jindal just signed it in to law. Optometrists can now perform more procedures on your eyes.
They say that will lower costs and help with the increased demand from aging baby boomers. But medical doctors are calling for oversite for your safety.
Optometrists jobs have expanded.
"This bill will now allow myself, as well as all my colleagues, to use our education to the fullest, because we are already trained on using lasers and we will be able to become retrained and get more education," said Dr. Jonathan Lappen, an optometrist at St. Charles Vision.
After college, optometrists go to four years of optometry school. Anyone without the new training, will have to take a 32-hour course on the new procedures. And that gives ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors with four years of medical school and another four to five years of clinical training, great concern.
"Louisiana citizens deserve better and in my opinion any surgeon who performs any kind of surgical procedure has to know how to manage the complications," said Dr. Ramesh Ayyala, a Tulane Ophthalmologist.
Few optometrists have admitting privileges to hospitals in case of an emergency. But they say they already work very closely and in practice with ophthalmologists. They say in 30,000 procedures performed in other states, there have been no complaints.
The medical doctors disagree.
"There is a spike, three to five percent spike in optometry law suits," noted Dr. Ayyala.
"I feel very confident in our education in our profession," Dr. Lappen said of his training.
Some ophthalmologist say they believe the reason the bill was easily passed was because it had the support and backing of Senator David Heitmeier, who is also an optometrist.
But by phone today, Senator Heitmeier, who has a practice on the West Bank, said there was outside support from groups like the Louisiana Nursing Home Association, Louisiana Rural Hospital Coalition, Louisiana Primary Care Association and the AARP. He says this law increases patient access, and lowers costs.
But medical doctors say they have seen patients misdiagnosed, for instance glaucoma that was really a brain tumor in a woman, so they want strict oversight.
"I am very disappointed that this bill has actually become to this level and that it's law now. Now that it is law, I hope my optometric colleagues realize the great new responsibilities and the burden they are going to carry. Please work with Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. Set the standards. A weekend course is not a substitute. Set the standards before you start working on patients," insisted Dr. Ayyala, who is concerned optometrists will have its own oversight board.
Optometrists can now remove eyelid sties and skin tags, and do three, in office lasers procedures for glaucoma and after cataract surgery. They can not use needles inside the eye or stitches.