In 2009, I was preparing to graduate from optometry (OD) school, concluding eight years and thousands of hours of specialized training focused on the eyes and the systemic diseases and conditions that can affect them.
I was excited and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a residency program – a unique program that trains DOs to perform therapeutic laser treatments and provides supervised education in eye disease and perioperative management. It was one of the few training programs for DOs to perform laser procedures during a one-year competitive program.
At the time, Oklahoma was the only state that allowed optometrists to perform these procedures in the office to treat glaucoma and provide care after cataract surgery. I didn’t want to live in Oklahoma forever, but I knew that many people realized that optometrists in Oklahoma performed these procedures safely – and that other parts of the country could benefit from updated laws. . These laws would allow patients to receive treatment closer to home, thereby improving access to care. I decided to move to a state where I would help change the laws and use the skills I would learn through my residency program.
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My journey took me to the east coast of Virginia and later into rural Appalachia in Grundy. In my 10 years in Virginia, I have seen countless patients who needed procedures that I have performed hundreds of times in Oklahoma – and could perform in neighboring Kentucky – but which I can’t perform them in Virginia. On the contrary, my patients often have to travel two to three hours to receive the recommended laser treatments. It takes planning, time, family support and financial investment.
There are now eight states where optometrists can perform these laser procedures. There are many other training programs for optometrists to perform these procedures and excel in their delivery. These procedures are quick, safe and part of the training and experience of every licensed optometrist. Being able to provide this care to my patients is not about reimbursement. It’s about accessing care and providing the highest level of care to patients, no matter where they live.
Optometry is a statutory profession – meaning the Commonwealth, rather than my training and qualifications, dictates the services I am allowed to provide. House Bill 213 and Senate Bill 375 are being introduced this year that would allow optometrists in Virginia to perform three in-office laser procedures to treat glaucoma and provide care after cataract surgery. If the bill passes, you won’t have to go to an eye doctor if your hometown optometrist is trained to perform these procedures. To be clear, Virginia Doctors of Optometry are not looking to perform Lasik, cataract surgery, or injections.
According to a 2018 workforce study by the Virginia Department of Health, there are more than twice as many optometrists as ophthalmologists in Virginia. Expanding our scope of practice to include certain laser procedures would better serve our patients. As an added benefit, physicians like me who already have the training and experience may find Virginia a more attractive place to live and practice.
Please ask your legislators to support HB 213 and SB 375 to help Virginians see things more clearly. For more information, visit trusteyecare.com.
Amanda Umlandt OD, FAAO is an Optometrist at Virginia Eyecare Clinic in Grundy, Virginia and President-Elect of the Virginia Optometric Association.