Lowering eye surgery licensing in California could be detrimental to patient care, ophthalmologists warn

The American Society of Retina Specialists has voiced its opposition to a bill under consideration in the California Senate that would allow optometrists to perform surgical procedures on the eye, including procedures that require the use of a scalpel, injection or lasers.

The legislation, AB 2236, "dangerously reduces the medical education, clinical and surgical training requirements to become licensed in California to perform eye surgery," according to Safe Eyes America, a nonprofit focused on promoting high-quality eye care.

If enacted, an individual would no longer be required to complete medical school and the required surgical training to become licensed to perform eye surgery, which would be detrimental to patient safety and outcomes, according to the American Society of Retina Specialists and Safe Eyes America.

Retina specialists are ophthalmologists — physicians who complete four years of medical school followed by four years of training in eye diseases and surgery — with an additional two years specializing in treatment of the retina. Retina specialists are trained to perform all surgical procedures included in AB 2236. 

"Every surgical procedure performed on the eye or eyelids requires education, training and experience to make the correct diagnosis, to make a decision on the best treatment be it surgery or not, and to develop the ability to perform the procedure," Safe Eyes America board member Kurt Heitman, MD, said in an Aug. 22 news release. "These are skills developed over years and shortcuts are just not safe for patients. A mistake anywhere along the path to surgery could have vision or even life-threatening consequences for the patient."

The California Senate is expected to vote on the legislation before it adjourns for the year on Aug. 31.

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