Poll: Majority of Virginians only want eye surgeon to perform eye surgery

Contact: Jeff Kelley for VSEPS
(804) 397-9700

80% of respondents would not trust primary vision care doctors with eye surgery

RICHMOND, VA (JANUARY 20, 2022) — A new poll released today by the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians & Surgeons found an overwhelming majority of Virginians — 80 percent — would only trust a trained eye surgeon to perform eye surgery. Just 10 percent said they would allow an optometrist, whose role is to provide primary vision care, to perform surgery on their eyes.

The poll is released as Virginia legislators review two bills in the General Assembly that would allow optometrists to perform laser-eye surgery if certified by the Virginia Board of Optometry. The bills are Senate Bill 375 (J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City) and House Bill 213 (Roxann L. Robinson, R-Chesterfield).

Laser-eye surgery procedures are common to treat cataracts, glaucoma, and related conditions. They are advanced eye surgeries requiring careful placement of laser energy into the eye. The procedures are never without risk, which is heavily minimized when performed by a medically trained surgeon: an ophthalmologist.

“Eye surgery should be performed by eye surgeons, who have experience and proficiency that only comes with years of education and training supervised by other surgeons, and participating in hundreds of surgeries on real live people,” said Michael Keverline, M.D., President of the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians & Surgeons. “Optometrists play a key role in eye and vision care, but it is important to understand where their scope of practice should end, and that is with surgery. Ophthalmologists are the only physicians qualified to perform eye surgery and prepared to manage surgical complications that can and do occur.”

  • Ophthalmologists (eye physicians and surgeons) are medical doctors (who can treat the entire body and specialize in eyes) and complete between 12-13 years of total higher education — which include 4-5 years of intensive surgery training. They typically have 17,000+ hours of surgical training before certification.
  • Optometrists (vision care experts) can practice after 7-8 years of higher education and diagnose eye conditions and treat vision problems. Optometric surgical training is generally didactic or simulated and does not include surgical experience involving patients under the supervision of a trained eye surgeon. They do not attend medical school.

The vast majority of states — 43 — prohibit laser surgery by optometrists, as does the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Even in those states where laser surgery is allowed for optometrists, few optometrists provide the services and typically not in any rural or underserved areas. Eye surgeons are widely available statewide, even in rural areas. There is no evidence that allowing optometrists to perform laser eye surgery would increase access to care or reduce costs — reimbursement is the same regardless of specialty. Expanding scope of practice for optometrists may lead to over-utilization of these procedures and drive up costs and health insurance premiums and the need for corrective medical care.

“No need has been demonstrated to change Virginia’s standard for eye surgery. Not on access to care, cost, or other patient need,” Keverline said. “The only thing we know is that if this legislation passes, inadequately trained practitioners will be performing surgery on people’s eyes.”

About the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians & Surgeons

As the “Eye MDs” of Virginia, The Virginia Society of Eye Physicians & Surgeons is a statewide, non-profit organization comprised of medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy. The VSEPS mission is to advocate for the best quality eye care through education, legislative efforts and community service. Members are committed to heightening public awareness that eye disease and blindness can be reduced through prevention, and early detection and treatment. Member physicians are dedicated to the public’s direct access to ophthalmic care. The organization was chartered in 1920.

About the Poll

The poll was commissioned by the Virginia Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons and conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy from January 13 to 17, 2022 with 625 registered voters statewide. The margin for error is no more than +/- 4 percentage points. For questions on the poll, contact Brad Coker with Mason-Dixon at [email protected] or call (904) 261-2444.