One of the big topics of discussion at SECO earlier this month—aside from the palpable feeling that the pandemic’s worst effects on social interaction had finally abated—was the news that broke during the conference that Virginia’s scope expansion law had passed. Come July 1, properly trained ODs in the state will be able to perform three YAG laser procedures: posterior capsulotomy, laser peripheral iridotomy and SLT.
This is a big win for optometry at a critical time, as several other states have similar bills in the offing right now. “Because we’re the biggest state so far that has passed this law, I think that can be very beneficial to other states that are trying to do it,” said Virginia Optometric Association President Lisa Gontarek, OD, in our news story on the legislation. “We’re hoping it will be like a snowball effect where other states will start to be successful in their endeavors as well.”
Virginia is the US’s 12th most populous state. Its population of 8.6 million is nearly twice that of Louisiana, previously the largest state with a laser law on the books. And with just over 1,000 practicing optometrists, Virginia also contains twice as many ODs as the previous top laser-approved state by optometric licenses (Kentucky).
It’s clear that laser laws will be to this decade what diagnostic and therapeutic laws were to previous eras: a defining battleground where ophthalmology and optometry spar, often pointlessly. As has been said time and again, optometric scope expansion helps ophthalmologists too, relieving their backlog of cases so they can concentrate on high-level procedures.
When you hear cries of professional overreach, bear in mind that scope battles arise largely because of structural inertia within organized medicine. Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, and ophthalmology created one in its workforce capacity. There simply aren’t enough ophthalmologists practicing now to meet demand for eye care and far too few MDs in ophthalmology residency programs to fill the gap.
So, enter optometry—through a door ophthalmology left wide open.
Virginia’s case and the general disposition of efforts elsewhere represent the culmination of years, sometimes decades, of tireless advocacy outlining the advantages of optometric care. Now comes the time to deliver on those promises. The one area where opponents have a chance to gain a toehold is their argument that some previous scope advancements have gone begging as local ODs failed to take advantage of their newfound laws.
No one should feel compelled to adopt a procedure they don’t want to add to their practice—there are many valid reasons to take a pass on lasers, if you so choose—but we need to see enough uptake (and demonstrable improvement in the lives of patients) to justify the effort and keep the momentum going. There’s a reason these are called laser privileges. Fortunately, the rollout looks to involve teaching institutions and other stakeholders that have optometry’s back. This magazine does too, and we’ll be launching a new series shortly that aims to share laser expertise with motivated newcomers.
For now, celebrate. Then get to work. We’ll be with you every step of the way!