Risk Management

Message from the Chairman: Retrobulbar and Periorbital Ocular Blocks

One of the many benefits of the close relationship between OMIC and the Academy is the ability to coordinate our efforts to address legal, regulatory, and quality of care issues of common concern. Recently, OMIC and the Academy joined forces to stop legislation that would have adversely affected ophthalmic practice in two states.

In March, OMIC responded to a request from Academy EVP/CEO, David Parke, MD, to help the Washington Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons (WAEPS) respond to a proposed state Medical Quality Assurance Commission (MQAC) regulation that would characterize retrobulbar and periorbital ocular blocks as anesthesia “where significant cardiovascular or respiratory complications may result.” Such a characterization would require every ophthalmology office that administers anesthetic blocks to undergo an accreditation or certification process similar to that of the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Healthcare. Clearly, the process would not only be burdensome, but also extraordinarily expensive and unnecessary as ophthalmologists have been administering these anesthetic blocks in their office practices for decades with no significant risk to patients.

As is often the case, this rule was “hidden” in a larger regulation pertaining to office-based surgery. When it appeared likely the regulation would pass, WAEPS contacted the Academy for assistance, and Dr. Parke asked OMIC for claims data related to the use of local blocks in office-based surgery. His response to MQAC stated:

“…complications of retrobulbar injection in the outpatient office setting are extraordinarily rare. A survey by the largest medical malpractice carrier in ophthalmology (Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company) found only one case in a 21-year review of its claims data bank of a cardiovascular event from a retrobulbar injection performed outside of the operating room. This is in a period of time when literally millions of such injections were performed. This indicates that the risk is very small.”

Having compelling evidence-based data is of extraordinary benefit when dealing with regulatory agencies. With the support of the Academy, the Washington Medical Association, and other concerned organizations, WAEPS was successful in having the rule taken off the hearing calendar and reevaluated with more input from ophthalmology.

OMIC also worked closely with Academy Secretary for State Affairs, Dan Briceland, MD, to help the West Virginia Academy of Ophthalmology (WVAO) fight an optometry bill that would have allowed optometrists to perform glaucoma surgery. OMIC has extensive experience in this area. Over 300 optometrists are directly insured by OMIC, and approximately 35% of its 4,100 insured ophthalmologists employ or contract with an optometrist. In a letter drafted for WVAO to present to West Virginia legislators, OMIC pointed out the risk to patients:

“OMIC engages in an ongoing process of assessing the risk of optometrists performing ‘surgery.’ Based on an objective risk assessment, OMIC is not willing to extend liability coverage to any optometrist who performs laser surgery or any therapeutic ophthalmic laser procedure.”

The letter noted that only one state (Oklahoma) allows optometrists to perform surgical or therapeutic laser procedures.

“OMIC’s decision to not extend this coverage to optometrists is based on the lack of data available on this liability risk, as well as the company’s assessment that there is also an absence of data to properly underwrite, determine a premium rate, and have the expertise to administer claims arising from surgical or therapeutic laser procedures performed by optometrists.”

After a hard-fought battle, the WVAO was able to defeat the bill and stop the expansion of optometry into glaucoma surgery.

Richard L. Abbott, MD OMIC Chairman of the Board

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