Eye Doctors in Chesapeake & Virginia Beach
Virginians’ vision will benefit from eye care legislation
By Dr. Lisa Gontarek, The Virginian-Pilot – 1/2/2022
Doctors of optometry, like all health care professionals, must meet certain licensing requirements to practice in Virginia. These requirements ensure optometrists have the education and training to provide safe, quality care to patients. Unfortunately, optometry is also a legislated profession, meaning the services an optometrist provides can be dictated by elected officials and medical lobbies rather than a doctor’s qualifications.
During the 2022 General Assembly, legislators will consider an optometry bill that would allow Virginia’s optometrists to perform three in-office procedures to treat glaucoma and provide after-cataract surgery care. These procedures can already be performed by optometrists in eight other states but in Virginia, can only be completed by ophthalmologists, medical doctors specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems.
Optometrists earn doctorate degrees upon completion of four years of optometry school and specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of vision problems. Optometric education includes more than 10,000 hours of didactic and clinical post-graduate training focused on the eye, its components, medical treatments and the more than 270 systemic diseases that manifest themselves in the eye including diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Virginia’s optometrists have been treating glaucoma for 25 years and managing after-cataract conditions for almost 40 years, and many optometrists are already certified to perform the procedures outlined in our bill. This legislation isn’t seeking the right to perform cataract surgery, LASIK, injections into the eye or other laser treatments. Rather, it seeks to allow optometrists to perform three specific procedures that will become more in-demand as Virginia’s population ages.
There are currently more than 24 million Americans with cataracts, a number that is expected to double over the next 30 years according to the National Eye Institute. The first procedure in our bill involves removing a film that develops on the lens implant in 35-40% of patients after cataract surgery. This follow-up procedure can be completed during a brief office visit with a qualified optometrist.
Identified as the leading cause of blindness, glaucoma affects more than 3 million Americans over age 40, a number that is expected to reach 4.2 million by 2030 according to the National Eye Institute. The second procedure in our bill allows optometrists to treat glaucoma by reducing pressure in the eye. This treatment is more cost effective and addresses poor compliance as compared to eye drop therapy, which requires regular pharmacy refills and daily use by patients. The third procedure in our bill is performed to reduce the likelihood of a sudden pressure spike or when pressure in the eye must be reduced immediately.
Optometrists and ophthalmologists often refer and collaborate on patient care yet, according to a 2018 work force study by the Virginia Department of Health Professions, there are more than twice as many optometrists as ophthalmologists in the commonwealth. The American Optometric Association says doctors of optometry provide more than 2/3 of primary eye health care in America, and more than 99% of the U.S. population lives in counties with an optometrist. This means expanding optometric scope of practice would increase access to care and reduce potential complications for patients who would otherwise have to wait for treatment. Timely treatment allows patients to more quickly resume living, working and driving with better vision.
For nearly 40 years, Virginia’s optometric scope of practice has evolved with our education and training and has never been repealed. In fact, there have been more than 10,000 malpractice claims in Virginia since 1998, 38% of which were related to medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine. Claims against optometrists were less than 1%. The procedures in our legislation have been performed more than 100,000 times in eight other states with no negative outcomes.
Visit trustedeyecare.com for more information, and ask your legislators for their support to help all Virginians see clearly.
Dr. Lisa Gontarek is president of the Virginia Optometric Association and an optometrist with Gontarek Eye Care in Chesapeake.
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Since 2010, our eye doctors have provided families in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, and Norfolk with the best eye care possible. Our optometrists and staff are rooted in the philosophy of good old fashioned honesty and customer service – and our patients appreciate that. Our eye doctors and staff provide help with contact lenses, comprehensive eye exams, eye glasses, and more.