On January 8, new regulations went into effect that better allow California O.D.s to treat patients with glaucoma. Three days later, two California medical groups filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of the new regulations.
This, after two years of wrangling among optometrists, ophthalmologists and politicians to get the new glaucoma regulations just right.
The two medical groups are the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (CAEPS) and the California Medical Association (CMA). Their lawsuit, filed in San Francisco
Superior Court, says the regulations are “invalid and unenforceable” and calls for their repeal.
“Let’s be clear: These new regulations are not up to snuff and in fact jeopardize the quality of eye care Californians deserve,” says James Hinsdale, M.D., CMA president. “Failing to require certification that includes treating actual glaucoma patients is the equivalent of handing out driver’s licenses to people who have read a driving manual and attended a class but have never driven a car.”
Frank A. Scotti, M.D., CAEPS president, says that although the new process mandates that optometrists attend certain classes, it doesn’t require them to have any experience treating patients using anti-glaucoma medications. “Not requiring any hands-on treatment of actual glaucoma patients is ridiculous on its face,” Dr. Scotti says. “Glaucoma is a blinding disease and any certification process to treat it should respect that fact.”
The old regulations required optometrists to collaborate with ophthalmologists on the case-management of 50 patients over two years.
“This new regulation would actually just allow them to practice as taught,” says Rachel Pitts, spokesperson for the California Optometric Association. “In 49 other states, O.D.s are allowed to practice to glaucoma, and this is just getting California up to speed.” The medical groups who brought the lawsuit are “acting out of economic self interest rather than what’s in the best interest of the people of California,” Ms. Pitts says.
Because there are 7,000 optometrists in California and 3,000 ophthalmologists, the new regulations will increase health care access and preventative care for the public, she says.
“There’s an optometrist in 57 out of 58 of California’s counties, so it’s just a lot more convenient for the public to get this quality eye care that optometrists are trained to do and fully taught to handle.”
The medical groups “do not oppose optometrists treating glaucoma, but rather aim to ensure training is adequate so the quality of care is not compromised,” CMA and CAEPS said in a joint statement. “Both organizations remain willing to consider certification standards that will sufficiently protect glaucoma patients.”
But this certification process already went through plenty of hashing out by an appointed advisory committee made up of both O.D.s and M.D.s. “There were tons of discussions, really open transparent conversations, before the governor signed it,” Ms. Pitts says.
While this lawsuit is disheartening for California optometrists, nothing has changed; the new glaucoma regulations will remain in effect for the time being. But “when you see student doctors coming fresh out of school and ready to practice as taught, it’s disappointing to see them deal with all this red tape,” Ms. Pitts says.