For more than 20 years, optometrists have been allowed to remove lesions from the eyelid by using a topical anesthetic — such as a cream — on the area from which the lesion is to be removed. A topical anesthetic takes longer to anesthetize the affected area, whereas a local anesthetic injected into the eyelid works much more quickly. This office procedure can be completed in a matter of minutes, and the patient can return to work or to home.
This bill initially created quite a stir at the Legislature because ophthalmologists did not want to share this portion of the eye care business with optometrists, even though the two professions are held to the same standard of care and even though optometrists have been injecting other substances (such as antibiotics and steroids) for more than 20 years.
Once the General Assembly understood all the facts, however, the bill was approved by a wide margin, 28-4 in the Senate and 86-2 in the House. The governor recently signed the bill into law.
Such “turf” battles among health care professionals are quite common at the Legislature. There are always cries of “patient safety,” but it generally boils down to a fight over some segment of the health care market in which the competition for patients is quite intense.
Optometrists have been providing eye care to Tennesseans for over 100 years. There are more than 1,000 licensed optometrists practicing in 94 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
Following graduation from college, optometric students complete a four-year education program at schools such as the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. Optometrists are highly trained professionals who provide routine eye care such as fitting patients for glasses and contact lenses, as well as eye medical care.
Passage of Senate Bill 220 means that Tennesseans will have convenient access to the eye care professional of their choice when they need to have an eyelid lesion removed.
The General Assembly should be congratulated for passing this important piece of health care legislation.
(About the writers: Dr. Tonya Reynoldson, O.D., practices optometry in Waverly, and is the current president of the Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians. Dr. Jeff Foster, O.D., practices optometry in Newport, and chairs the Government Affairs Committee of the Tennessee Association of Optometric Physicians.)