Bill would lower qualifications to perform some eye surgeries

Feb 17, 2024, 10:28 AM | Updated: Feb 20, 2024, 6:41 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Everyone deserves quality access to eye care – but a bill making its way through the Utah Legislature is causing some controversy.

SB210 would allow optometrists to perform certain laser procedures. This would not include LASIK or cataract surgery, but it would allow optometrists to perform a YAG Laser Capsulotomy and a Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty, or SLT.

Some ophthalmologists say optometrists should not be able to do these surgeries because the latter did not attend medical school and lack the required training and competency.

“It’s a patient safety issue,” said Dr. Richard Corey, an ophthalmologist who practices in Provo. “I would not want someone who just took a very brief course to start doing procedures that carry definite risk without enough background or education.”

“These are safe procedures, but if a procedure goes wrong, you have to have the training to know what to do. And that’s what makes me nervous for patients,” said Dr. Clint Duncan, an ophthalmologist with Mountain Eye Institute in Cedar City.

On the other hand, some optometrists think this bill would provide greater access to medical care for Utahns.

Dr. Ross Chatwin, an optometrist in Salt Lake City, said though he did not attend medical school, he was trained to do those procedures in optometry school.

“In an era where we have so many patients that need care and a lack of providers out there, it’s important that we allow those who are trained and educated to do those procedures, as long as they are doing them safely,” he said.

A similar bill was brought forward in 2022, which eventually failed.

SB210 is sponsored by Rep. James Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, and Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo.

“For the ophthalmologist to say that the optometrists are unqualified, they have not put forward any proposal. They’ve just said no. And as a policy maker that’s very frustrating,” Bramble said.

SB210 passed the Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday and is now on the Senate floor, where it could be voted on as early as next week.

“I work very closely with optometrists,” said Dr. Bradley Katz with Moran Eye Center. “I have a lot of respect for their training and expertise. I just don’t think they should be doing surgery.”

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Bill would lower qualifications to perform some eye surgeries