To the Editor:
I am an ophthalmologist from the Mainland – an eye M.D. My family and I have very close friends in St. Croix, including educators, leaders, and musicians. I feel compelled to write to you on an issue that will adversely affect my Island friends. There is a very dangerous bill currently in your Legislature that every person in the USVI needs to learn about before it’s too late. It affects your eyes. More importantly, if this bill is passed, I believe it puts your vision and general health in grave danger.
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who spend eight years of their lives in medical school and in residency training – learning how to diagnose and treat eye disease, including surgery. Ophthalmologists have over 17,000 hours of clinical education, including 2,000 hours of mentored eye surgery experience. They have a medical degree like your family doctor or general surgeon. Optometrists, on the other hand, do not attend medical school and do not do multi-year residencies. Many of them can be found doing routine eye exams and prescribing glasses and contact lenses.
Your USVI legislature is considering a bill that has broad and misleading language, which would potentially allow optometrists to perform dozens of new procedures and write prescriptions for medicines about which they have little or no training – and no direct prescribing experience . The proponents of the bill will tell you that it forbids "surgery", but read the fine print and you won’t find a definition for what surgery is. History (from states like Oklahoma and Kentucky) has proven that optometrists will take a scalpel to your eyelid or needle to your eye and not necessarily call it "surgery."
The bill would also create an optometric drug formulary so big that it would enable optometrists to prescribe medicines that could adversely affect organ systems, other than the eye, and create adverse reactions with your other prescriptions. Moreover, optometrists could order tests that are very costly, without the basic medical education which enables sound clinical decisions. Studies have shown that this always causes an abrupt rise in health care costs.
The bill is called 29-0296 and you, my friends, need to contact your representatives and tell them that your eyes are precious and that you deserve better. There is simply no logical reason that optometrists should be performing these procedures without adequate training like medical school. This bill will be ready for a major vote possibly this month, so act fast! Contact : www.legvi.org or call 1-(340)773-2424 for St. Croix or 1-(340) 774-0880 for St. Thomas or John and ask to leave a message for your Senators.
Chip Richardson, M.D.