If you need laser eye surgery in the state of Kentucky, or a little cosmetic work around the eyelids, it now behooves you to ask your prospective surgeon the following question before signing the operative consent form:
"Say doc, did you go to medical school?"
Kentucky joined the company of Oklahoma last week as the second state to conflate optometrists and ophthalmologists. Only ophthalmologists are the sort of doctors who graduated from medical school, did an internship, completed a three-year residency in eye surgery, possibly a fellowship after that, and have achieved and maintained national board certification through a program of lifelong learning in their specialty.
Optometry schools (four-year programs focused on optics to prescribe glasses and contacts and the diagnosis and management of certain eye-related diseases) have a tough application process too, and many of the same students going into optometry could have chosen medicine. But nobody ever really faces a clear-cut choice of going into optometry or ophthalmology. Even if you do exceedingly well in medical school, you could easily miss out on an ophthalmology residency slot. Ophthalmology is among the most selective specializations in medicine. Yet despite having earned a reputation within medical science as one of its most advanced and storied fields, these days ophthalmology is challenged with its branding, of all things. Perhaps it's the funny spelling?
Nationwide, about 30 percent of consumers don't know the difference between the two types of eye doctors, according to a survey conducted by the National Consumer's League (the NCL designed the study independently, then applied for and received unrestricted funding from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, which did not commission the study). Ninety-five percent of the 600 Americans surveyed wanted an M.D. wielding the scalpel or the laser if they needed eye surgery. Regular everyday people seem to sense that the eyes are part of the body, that serious disease might have something to do with the whole, and that at the very least, you might want a full-service clinician involved if something becomes complicated enough for an invasive procedure.
Proponents of optometry's expansion argued that having optometrists perform in-office laser eye procedures, inject medications into eyes, and cut out "lumps and bumps" around the eyes increases health care access for Kentucky's rural citizens (Kentucky's Medicaid program can spend $150 in transportation credits for a $50 ophthalmology check-up). Optometrists outnumber ophthalmologists by a ration of four to one and can be found in most Kentucky counties.
But while you could easily be forgiven for imagining that Kentucky's leadership must now be hot on the trail of other ways to foster health care accessibility, like chiropractic spine surgery or cosmetic surgery parlors, do not expect the complete democratization of medicine until back adjusters and cosmetologists can pay to play with the same skill as optometrists. Mistaking optometry for ophthalmology was no Mr. Magoo moment.
"If you go back and look at our involvement in politics in terms of contributions, we've always been involved," says Dr. Ian Benjamin Gaddie, president-elect of the Kentucky Optometric Association. "We work hand-in-hand in the community with these people and that makes a huge difference."
Efforts included lobbying state legislators while they were immobilized in the optometric examining chair, reports indicate.
"In many states it's just how the stars line up, and how your luck goes as you run the gamut through the political process," Dr. Gaddie told me.
The Louisville Courier-Journal's Frankfort bureau chief Tom Loftus followed the blue grass stardust:
"Kentucky optometrists and their political action committee have given campaign money to 137 of the 138 members of the state legislature and Gov. Steve Beshear, contributing more than $400,000 as they push for a bill to expand their practices.
Members of the Kentucky Optometric Association and its PAC have given at least $327,650 to legislative candidates in the last two years alone and have hired 18 lobbyists to help them make their case.
They also gave a total of at least $74,000 more to Beshear's re-election campaign, the Republican gubernatorial campaign of Senate President David Williams and the House and Senate political caucuses."
Optometry waged state-by-state expansion of practice battles for four decades on its way to where the profession stands now, which is increasingly nebulous. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Medical Association have challenged optometry every step as optometry blurs its boundaries with medicine. A patchwork quilt of legislation around the country variably delineates optometric practice. Now two patches have little pockets for scalpels and lasers.
For optometrists, serving us as the "primary health care professional for the eye" means what the state says it does, and that can vary widely, creating confusion among patients and the rest of the medical world. Citing how in some states optometrists must obtain certifications for medications they have no intention of ever using, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists pointed to optometrist licensure as an example to avoid.
Optometrists have been dilating eyes since the 1970s to better diagnose eye diseases, and have been using local medications in most states since the 1980s. They no longer face opposition from ophthalmology on these fronts. "We draw the philosophical line in the sand with surgery," says Dr. David Parke, chief executive officer of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Ophthalmologists have successfully fought back in 25 other state battles where optometrists asked legislatures to let them perform surgery, he says, by pointing out the difference in quality of training and management of adverse events.
While chair of the University of Oklahoma's Department of Ophthalmology for 17 years, Dr. Parke dealt with the aftermath of upgraded optometric licensure in that state. He says the problems he saw were the result of "not knowing what you don't know."
Dr. Parke's experience included treating a man whose "skin tag" was excised by an optometrist. Nine months later the patient came to the university medical center with an invasive, substantive squamous cell carcinoma that required a massive reconstructive surgery. "We asked the patient, 'Why'd you let him do that?' He replied, 'Well he's a doctor, he had on a white coat and he said he could.'"
In another case, an elderly patient with severe end-stage glaucoma could only be controlled surgically through a technique called filtering blebs. "She went to an optometrist who said to the patient, 'Mrs. Jones, you have cysts on your eyes, I should take care of those now,' and he proceeded to excise them, completely undoing the surgery."
"In the end it scares me, quite frankly," says Dr. Parke.
The most common laser procedure Kentucky optometrists will perform involves using a YAG laser to clear a membrane that becomes cloudy in some patients after lens replacement surgery (it's something ophthalmologists do as needed on post-cataract surgery follow-up appointments). The procedure may take only 20 minutes to learn and looks as simple as a video game. But complications can occur.
"You can be a pilot, and say, 'I'm just going to fly in good weather' -- but you never know when it's gonna get dark, or when the storm's gonna come up," says Dr. Woodford Van Meter, president of the Kentucky Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. "You can go get an amateur pilot's license, but that doesn't mean you should fly a jetliner full of passengers down to Florida."
But ophthalmologists can only convey their concerns when they're given enough time. By the immaculate design of 18 lobbyists, the ophthalmologists knew about the Kentucky bill just 12 hours before it entered a Senate committee (bypassing a customary 72-hour holding period), and sailed through that committee to the Senate floor the next day. The whole process, from the bill's first public posting to the Governor signing it into law, took 17 days, bypassing hundreds of other bills filed well before it. "It was a juggernaut. It was an advancing force that seemed to crush everything under its path," Tom Loftus said on the KET program Comment on Kentucky.
Dr. Van Meter says he and his colleagues got 10 minutes total to make their case at an informational hearing put together at the last minute in the Kentucky Senate.
"The people pushing the bill to me looked like your dog when you come into the kitchen and he's taken a piece of meat of your plate," Dr. Van Meter told me. "He just looks guilty as sin, but he's sitting there smiling with big eyes like nothing in the world ever happened."
The bill itself looks like a rush job. It even includes an anatomical error. It prohibits optometrists from injecting into the posterior chamber of the eye (nobody can, it's too small a space). Presumably that line meant to state that optometrists cannot inject into the posterior segment of the eye, which includes the vitreous. Because of the sloppy writing, now optometrists can inject into the posterior segment, using drugs like Lucentis to treat macular degeneration. The bill also excludes optometrists from performing two common excimer laser corrective vision procedures, LASIK and PRK, but leaves out another common procedure, LASEK.
Dr. Ben Gaddie admits the LASEK loophole exists, but he expects the optometry board won't allow excimer laser procedures at all, following the spirit of the legislation if not its wording. However, he's not on the optometry board.
Dr. Van Meter and other state ophthalmology leaders sat down with Kentucky's governor to make their case as he weighed whether to sign the bill that had arrived on his desk with such urgency. They were a little flummoxed when it became apparent the governor had little issue with the idea that providers who didn't go to medical school would be doing surgery. "He seemed to think that was okay," Dr. Van Meter observes.
I asked the governor, who was on the road attending the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting in D.C. this weekend, whether he was now pioneering the way for other states in redefining optometry. He's making no such stand. Beshear based his decision "solely on what is best for the people of Kentucky. Under that framework, improving access to health care of all kinds is a priority for Kentuckians. Other states must make their own determinations for what is best for their citizens," he wrote in an email.
Elaborating on the access issue, Beshear wrote, "there are fewer ophthamologists in Kentucky than optometrists, and at times, it may be easier for residents (especially in rural areas) to get access to an optometrist for needed eye care. There will be times when citizens will require the services of an ophthalmologist; however, this legislation will allow Kentuckians to have more options in accessing proper eye care."
Naturally I wanted to know whether the governor would choose the care of an ophthalmologist or an optometrist should he need an eye surgery now in the optometry's purview. Maybe he'll simply pick the geographically closest provider, like he expects the disadvantaged Appalachian citizens of his state will do? He didn't answer that one.
What's optometry's end game, if the field sees itself as the primary care providers for the eye? "It's hard for me to fathom that the end goal of the organized profession of optometry is to go in and do routine intraocular surgery like retinal disease or cataract surgery or incisional glaucoma surgery," says Dr. Ben Gaddie. He believes that the minor surgical procedures with scalpels and lasers Kentucky now allows fit into the "primary care" mold.
It sure sounds specialized to me. The eye is part of the central nervous system. I don't know too many primary care docs who do a little bit of neurosurgery or plastic surgery on the side. There's a reason the rest of medicine organizes itself into cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons, neurologists and neurosurgeons, and so on. There's a reason you want a surgeon to do surgery. They do a lot, and they do it well. It's worth a little drive.
"I give the optometrists an A+ in politics," says Dr. Parke of the ophthalmology association. "I may give them an F in being an effective advocate for patient safety and quality of care."
Trump’s attacks on the free press don’t just threaten the media—they undermine the public’s capacity to think, act, and defend democracy.
Are Donald Trump’s latest attacks on the press really that bad? Are they that out-of-the-ordinary, given the famous record of complaints nearly all his predecessors have lodged? (Even George Washington had a hostile-press problem.)
Are the bellows of protest from reporters, editors, and others of my press colleagues justified? Or just another sign that the press is nearly as thin-skinned as Trump himself, along with being even less popular?
I could prolong the buildup, but here is the case I’m going to make: Yes, they’re that bad, and worse.
I think Trump’s first month in office, capped by his “enemy of the people” announcement about the press, has been even more ominous and destructive than the Trump of the campaign trail would have prepared us for, which is of course saying something. And his “lying media” campaign matters not only in itself, which it does, but also because it is part of what is effectively an assault by Trump on the fundamentals of democratic governance.
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
The journalist’s comments suggest gay men enjoy sex with children—an idea that has been widely debunked.
In the comment that cost him his book deal and speaker slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Breitbart journalist and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos defended “relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are.”
In the video, a clip of an old podcast episode that was tweeted this weekend by the group Reagan Battalion, Yiannopoulos says he isn’t defending pedophilia, before adding that “in the gay world, some of the most enriching ... relationships between younger boys and older men can be hugely positive experiences.” (Yiannopoulos later blamed “sloppy phrasing," saying when he was 17 he was in a relationship with a 29-year-old man. The age of consent in the U.K. is 16.)
Neither truck drivers nor bankers would put up with a system like the one that influences medical residents’ schedules.
The path to becoming a doctor is notoriously difficult. Following pre-med studies and four years of medical school, freshly minted M.D.s must spend anywhere from three to seven years (depending on their chosen specialty) training as “residents” at an established teaching hospital. Medical residencies are institutional apprenticeships—and are therefore structured to serve the dual, often dueling, aims of training the profession’s next generation and minding the hospital’s labor needs.
How to manage this tension between “education and service” is a perennial question of residency training, according to Janis Orlowski, the chief health-care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Orlowski says that the amount of menial labor residents are required to perform, known in the profession as “scut work,” has decreased "tremendously" since she was a resident in the 1980s. But she acknowledges that even "institutions that are committed to education … constantly struggle with this,” trying to stay on the right side of the boundary between training and taking advantage of residents.
Joe Moran’s book Shrinking Violets is a sweeping history that doubles as a (quiet) defense of timidity.
The Heimlich maneuver, in the nearly 50 years since Dr. Henry Heimlich established its protocol, has been credited with saving many lives. But not, perhaps, as many as it might have. The maneuver, otherwise so wonderfully simple to execute, has a marked flaw: It requires that choking victims, before anything can be done to help them, first alert other people to the fact that they are choking. And some people, it turns out, are extremely reluctant to do so. “Sometimes,” Dr. Heimlich noted, bemoaning how easily human nature can become a threat to human life, “a victim of choking becomes embarrassed by his predicament and succeeds in getting up and leaving the area unnoticed.” If no one happens upon him, “he will die or suffer permanent brain damage within seconds.”
The Border Adjustment Tax, a proposal favored by House Speaker Paul Ryan, has aroused serious opposition from Republican senators.
Donald Trump is feeling good about taxes. In his gonzo press conference last Thursday, he assured Americans that “very historic tax reform” is absolutely on track and is going to be—wait for it!—“big league.” The week before, he told a bunch of airline CEOs that “big league” reform was “way head of schedule” and that his people would be announcing something “phenomenal” in “two or three weeks.” And at his Orlando pep rally this past weekend, he gushed about his idea for a punitive 35 percent border tax on products manufactured overseas. The magic is happening, people. And soon America’s tax code will be the best, most beautiful in the world.
But here’s the thing. What Trump doesn’t know about the legislative process could overflow the pool at Mar-a Lago. And when it comes to tax reform, even minor changes make Congress lose its mind. Weird fault lines appear, and the next thing you know, warring factions have painted their faces blue and vowed to die on the blood-soaked battlefield before allowing this marginal rate to change or that loophole to close.
Megaprojects are rarely, if ever, completed on schedule.
The construction of a massive wall along the border of the United States and Mexico is one of President Donald Trump’s central campaign promises. And it’s a promise he intends to keep.
Within days of taking the oath of office in January, Trump began laying the groundwork for the construction of a series of walls and fences that would span some 1,250 miles along the border. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo outlining its commitment to “begin planning, design, construction and maintenance of a wall” to deter and prevent illegal entry into the United States. The memo follows an executive order in which Trump called for the wall’s “immediate construction.”
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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Jewish Community Centers around the country have been bombarded by menacing phone calls. For the most part, people are sad, not scared.
The Nashville Jewish Community Center has now gotten so many telephone bomb threats that the dates run together, said Leslie Sax, the executive director. The first call came on January 9, when Nashville was one of the first 15 JCCs to get threats. The next call was January 18, accompanying yet another national wave. The latest was just this weekend, on Presidents’ Day, when 11 JCCs around the country were threatened, according to a spokesperson for the national organization. The Nashville facility, more full than usual with people exercising on the holiday weekend, was evacuated before security gave the all-clear.
“Most people just feel sadness—they’re sad that this is happening,” Sax said. “Everyone keeps saying they’re disheartened and frustrated.” But even though people are upset, they don’t seem to be scared. “I haven’t heard fear,” she said.