Arkansas bill could expand optometrists' scope of practice — 6 insights

Proposed legislation in Arkansas would allow optometrists to perform certain surgeries that are currently only performed by ophthalmologists, KATV reports.

What you should know:

1. HB1251 would change the "practice of optometry" definition, expanding the types of ophthalmic surgery optometrists can legally perform. Optometrists in Arkansas would still be prohibited from performing any surgery that requires an incision of the iris, vitreous humor, retina and thick incision of the cornea.

2. Arkansas law currently stipulates that eye issues necessitating surgery must be treated by licensed ophthalmologists. Optometrists can examine eyes and diagnose and treat certain eye diseases.

3. Rep. Stephen Magie, MD, D-Ark, is a licensed ophthalmologist. He said he's concerned the change could compromise patient safety because optometrists undergo different training.

"They're asking to do some things that only really only a trained surgeon can do," he said.

4. Optometrists complete four years of optometry school, earning a doctorate. Ophthalmologists complete four years of medical school, a year-long internship and three years of residency.

5. During a demonstration at the Arkansas Capitol, the Arkansas Optometric Association contended optometry students undergo training to perform certain ophthalmic surgeries. Optometrist Belinda Starkey, OD, said she is licensed in Oklahoma and has experience performing ophthalmic procedures, showing an optometrist can perform them successfully.

6. Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alaska and Kentucky have changed the scope of practice to allow optometrists to perform laser and other surgical procedures legally, however six states have rejected similar legislation in the past year.

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