Health & Medicine

Eye doctors say optometry board violated state open meetings law

FRANKFORT — State ophthalmologists want new regulations allowing optometrists to perform some laser surgeries withdrawn. The ophthalmologists allege that the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners violated the state's open meetings law by not allowing public input into those regulations.

In a complaint sent to the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners, which approved the controversial new regulations, the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and the Kentucky Medical Association said that a task force that was charged with developing the new regulations held no public meetings and did not ask for public input.

A public meeting was held by the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners in July, but the complaint says that the regulations had already been drafted before the public meeting, limiting the debate and input into the regulations.

Ophthalmologists — who have attended medical school and have years of advanced training — fought the passage of Senate Bill 110, which the legislature passed earlier this year. The bill would authorize optometrists — who have advanced training but have not attended medical school — to perform some eye surgeries using lasers, the limited use of injections and the use of scalpels for some procedures involving the eyes.

After the bill was passed, it was sent to a task force that developed regulations on how an optometrist could get credentials for the expanded duties. The task force sent its recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners.

Dr. Woodford Van Meter, president of the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, said the group had tried to find out when the Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners was meeting in June and the group was never notified. All meetings of the board must be made public, Van Meter said.

"Any good piece of legislation should withstand scrutiny and discussion," Van Meter said. "All of these regulations were devised behind closed doors."

According to the complaint, the ophthalmologists and the Kentucky Medical Association say that the task force's meeting should have been open to the public.

But Jerald Combs, an optometrist and president of the optometric examiners board, said in a written statement Friday that he thinks the organization followed all of the state's open-meetings rules.

"The Kentucky Board of Optometric Examiners is confident that it has complied to all open meeting laws, but as a board we will take up this very important matter at a special called meeting Monday," Combs said.

If the board decides not to withdraw it, the regulation will go Tuesday to the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee for review. Van Meter said that state legislators have the opportunity at the Tuesday meeting to protect Kentucky patients.

"Legislators reviewing this regulation should nullify them and send them back to the drawing board in order to protect the safety of patients," Van Meter said. "This adds further evidence that this entire process — the legislative to regulatory phase — is flawed and should be re-examined."

The optometrists did change some of the regulations after the July meeting, where ophthalmologists and other medical doctors questioned whether optometrists could learn the complexities of laser surgeries in a 16-hour course, which had originally been proposed.

The optometrists later changed the regulation to require 32 hours of training.

That still isn't enough, many medical professionals have said.

Ophthalmologists spend more than 17,000 hours in clinical training before they perform surgery, Van Meter said.

"The fact is there should be no shortcuts to a medical degree," said Dr. Gordon Tobin, president of the Kentucky Medical Association. "You simply can't do away with the need for rigorous surgical training."

Optometrists argue that there is a need in rural areas for these types of eye surgeries because of a shortage of ophthalmologists. Moreover, they say, the types of surgeries they will perform are minor, and optometrists have done similar procedures for years with little or no problem.