By Laura Leslie

Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina ophthalmologists are fighting back against a proposal to allow optometrists to perform some types of eye surgery in the state.

House Bill 36 would ban optometrists from performing 17 named procedures and anything involving general anesthesia. But ophthalmologists say that leaves the door open for optometrists, who are not trained surgeons by trade, to perform scores of other minor surgeries, including those to treat glaucoma and cataracts, after only weekend training courses on the procedures.

During a Tuesday news conference, Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, a practicing surgeon and urologist in Greenville, talked about his five years of surgical training.

“This would allow folks that have no prior in-depth surgical training to perform surgery,” Murphy said. “We ought to keep surgery for surgeons. The optometrists do a fantastic job at what they do. We’re not criticizing that whatsoever. But in my opinion, and also of the North Carolina Medical Society, we ought to allow surgeons to do surgery.”

Oklahoma, Kentucky and Louisiana have passed similar measures. Oklahoma’s law was the subject of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in July 2016 that found patients who underwent a type of laser surgery performed by an optometrist were nearly three times more likely to need follow-up operations than patients whose surgery was performed by an ophthalmologist.

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