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In the Eye of a Turf War

Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A. recently concluded a medical malpractice action against an Optometrist.  The case involved the failure of the Optometrist to properly and timely recognize that our client’s condition was not responding to the medicines being prescribed.

The Optometrist thought the patient had a bacterial infection (Bacterial Keratitis).  The patient actually had a fungal infection of the cornea (Fungal Keratitis).  The treatment for these conditions involves completely different medicine (antifungal v. antibiotics).  The delay in discovery caused the patient to suffer unnecessarily and sustain significant scarring of the cornea and decreased vision.

In handling this case, the law firm learned a good deal about “eye doctors”.  The term “eye doctor” is too general to be accurate.  An optician is a technical practitioner who designs, fits and dispenses corrective lenses for the correction of a person’s vision.  An Optometrist provides primary vision care, they are Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) but are not medical doctors (M.D.)  Optometrists attend four years of optometry school after completing college.  A licensed Optometrist performs eye exams, vision tests and prescribes and dispenses corrective lenses.  They detect certain eye abnormalities and prescribe medication for certain eye diseases.

An Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (or Osteopathic physician D.O.) who specializes in eye and vision care.  They typically have eight years of schooling and training after college and some, with sub-specialization have even more.  An Ophthalmologist diagnoses and treats all eye diseases, performs eye surgery and fits eye glasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.

In Florida, the legislature has passed laws known as the Optometry Practice Act (Florida Statute 463.001) which regulates the scope of practice and provides rules of the road for Optometrists.

For example, Optometrists are prohibited from performing surgery (F.S. 463.014) (4).  Optometrists have standards of practice that are set out in the laws of Florida (F.S. 463.0135).

In our recent optometric malpractice suit, the law firm placed great emphasis on Florida Statute 463.0135(3), which states, “when an infections corneal disease condition has not responded to standard methods of treatment within the scope of optometric practice, the certified Optometrist shall consult with a physician skilled in diseases of the eye and licensed under Chapter 458 or 459.  (meaning an Ophthalmologist).

Eye doctors – Optometrists and Ophthalmologists and even Opticians fit patients for glasses.  Both Optometrists and Ophthalmologists perform eye examinations, vision tests and treat some conditions.  Patient care is a primary source of revenue for many of these practitioners.  All three kinds of practitioners can also make income selling eye glasses and eye care accessories.  There is an obvious financial interest in maintaining the patient in the practice – the turf war.

As silly as it sounds – patients do not seem to ask their doctors enough questions.  Asking a physician about their training or degrees is proper.  People do all kinds of research before buying a car or appliance but hardly ever check out their healthcare providers.

A person with a serious or lasting eye problem needs to see an Ophthalmologist.  A reasonably prudent Optometrist needs to know when to refer the patient out to the Ophthalmologist.

At Jeffrey R. Davis, P.A., we pride ourselves on complete and thorough representation of our clients.  We handle claims involving Ophthalmic and Optometric malpractice and are available for free case reviews.  Jeff Davis is a Board Certified Trial Lawyer in practice since 1986.

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