Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Laser Surgery Battle Has National Implications

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Laser Surgery Battle Has National Implications

Article excerpt

If a Senate-passed bill isn't sidetracked, Oklahomans will be the guinea pigs in a national drive by optometrists to become laser surgeons, a leading state ophthalmologist predicts.

"This has tremendous national implications," said Dr. David Parke, chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine.

On the other side, a spokesman for optometrists says the physicians are using scare tactics in a bid to thwart the laser surgery bill for financial reasons. Optometrists are pushing for a law giving them the authority to conduct laser surgeries. They contend there are not enough medical doctors in rural areas to keep up with the demand for such procedures. Parke said optometrists in other states are closely watching the outcome of the latest battle in the Oklahoma Legislature over eye care. "No state in the country currently permits optometrists to do surgery," he said. "If this bill passes, we will have made Oklahomans guinea pigs in this regard." "Optometrists will be virtually able to do neurosurgery without anyone saying, `boo,'" adds Jeffrey Shaver, president of the Oklahoma Academy of Ophthalmology. Optometrists turned to the Legislature for help after Oklahoma County Judge Eugene Mathews ruled they are not qualified to perform laser surgery on the eye. Mathews held that lasers are surgical instruments like a scalpel or knife. "A practitioner who lacks the training obtained in medical school and residency in ophthalmology cannot remedy that deficiency by completing a 16-hour weekend course or a 24-hour weekend course and become sufficiently proficient thereby to perform laser surgery," the judge said. He said it was in the interest of patient health and welfare that laser surgery be performed only by medical doctors, whose training includes years of residency where they are monitored by other physicians. The ruling came despite testimony that optometrists in Oklahoma had performed 4,000 laser procedures since 1988. That figure was upped to 5,000 last week in testimony before a Senate committee. House Bill 1192 passed the full Senate on 33-13 vote with little discussion. …

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