Other Voices

Why can’t Texas legislature see the danger in allowing eye surgery without this?

The 86th Legislature will soon be at work inside the Texas Capitol.
The 86th Legislature will soon be at work inside the Texas Capitol. atinsley@star-telegram.com

Much has changed over the 30 years I’ve been practicing pediatrics in Fort Worth. Our city has more than doubled, and children I cared for in the beginning are now parents and even grandparents.

As a physician, I’ve also witnessed innovations in science, medicine and technology that have enhanced and saved countless lives.

However, over that time, what has not changed is the importance of a medical degree and residency training to prepare a physician to practice medicine and perform surgery.

That is why it is so shocking to read House Bill 1798, which removes over 100 delicate eye surgeries conducted using lasers, scalpels and needles from the Texas Medical Board’s oversight and invites thousands of optometrists who do not have medical degrees or surgical residency training to perform these operations.

This is dangerous and risky – particularly because many patients do not know the difference between optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Both use the title “Dr.” However, only ophthalmologists completed medical school and residency training, during which they must complete hundreds of supervised surgeries before practicing independently.

It’s even more frightening when you realize that a millimeter off with that surgical tool could lead to permanent vision loss. And don’t be fooled – a laser is a surgical tool that cuts as deeply and sharply as any knife.

Optometrists are called “Dr.” after they graduate from optometry school, where their training focuses on primary eye care services such as examinations, refraction and contact lens fitting. Optometrists receive no clinical training managing patients with different systemic diseases beyond a basic overview. There is no mandatory postgraduate training in optometry.

It is alarming that anyone would want to legislate a shortcut into the operating room, not to mention writing a bill that would grant thousands of optometrists the ability to write prescriptions for the narcotic hydrocodone, when many communities in this country are grappling with an opioid addiction epidemic.

Most physicians rarely, if ever, write opioid prescriptions for eye pain, yet here is a bill that specifically asks to give that authority to physician imposters.

Why would the Texas Legislature even consider a bill that would follow Oklahoma’s irresponsible lead in letting non-physicians operate?

Technology, such as laser surgery, has enhanced medicine in many ways, but no one should perform surgery without the benefit of medical school and residency. It is the bare minimum needed before wielding a scalpel or prescribing powerful medications.

Put plainly, House Bill 1798 would jeopardize patient safety in our great state. We are not Oklahoma and we are not Louisiana. Texas should not go down this dangerous path.

Gary W. Floyd, MD is a pediatrician practicing in Fort Worth. Dr. Floyd graduated from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and completed his pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma, The University of Oklahoma Health Science Center. He is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He has practiced in various settings including general pediatrics, academic pediatrics, pediatric emergency and urgent care, and administrative medicine and government affairs.