LASIK eye surgery has become this country’s number one elective surgery. LASIK is a surgical procedure intended to reduce a person’s dependency on glasses or contact lenses. For most patients, the results of this office procedure are improved vision to 20/20 without the need for glasses or contacts. LASIK stands for Laser-Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratectomy. It involves reshaping the cornea with a laser so light is refracted at the proper angles. Ophthalmologists slice a flap on the cornea’s epithelium, the outermost protective layer. Next, they vaporize some of the underlying tissue. The laser flattens or steepens the curvature of the cornea. The surgeon then replaces the flap. After it dries, the flap rebonds with the underlying cornea. The earliest type of corneal surgery, Radial Keratotomy (RK), which involves cutting with a knife, was first performed in the 1950s. Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) is a type of corneal surgery that was developed later. LASIK causes less trauma to the epithelium than PRK and reduces pain and healing time.
For eye doctors, the procedure is very lucrative. The cost can range from $299 to $4,500 per eye. Some doctors perform several procedures a day, in an assembly line fashion. The outlay for the lasers, roughly $300,000 to $500,000, is soon recouped. Eye doctors increasingly use hard-sell marketing practices. Advertising firms advise doctors how to best market LASIK to prospective patients. A Google search for “LASIK eye surgery” produces 1,740,000 results, topped by several sponsored ads looking for customers at cut-rate prices. Some offer no money down/no interest deals. You can even get a $400 off coupon if you “act now.” Unfortunately, an estimated 1% to 5% of patients who have LASIK experience serious post-surgery complications. Another 10% to 15% must undergo repeat procedures to correct problems such as glare, halos, over/under correction, diminished contrast, and blurry vision.
The number of LASIK malpractice cases has increased dramatically in recent years. These cases focus on surgical results that include, but are not limited to, corneal scarring, haze, over-corrections, astigmatism, and epithelial in-growth. Other problems include LASIK performed on the incorrect axis of astigmatism, failure to sterilize LASIK equipment, equipment malfunction, and lack of informed consent. Many complications are accepted risks of the procedure. For example, one frequent complication is the occurrence of small areas of unremoved tissue the laser had missed. This may distort light refraction. Since this is an accepted risk, proving negligence would be difficult.
Because of their physical characteristics, some patients are particularly at risk of injury. A claim can be made that performing LASIK on “at risk” patients constitutes malpractice. There are many factors in determining a patient’s suitability for LASIK, such as the amount of correction required, a patient’s corneal thickness, and a patient’s pupil size under low light conditions. Because of this uncertainty as to who is a proper candidate for LASIK, abuses have crept into this highly lucrative business. Some physicians may operate on high-risk patients. It can be difficult to find an experienced laser surgeon willing to testify in a LASIK malpractice case, especially if the surgeon has a LASIK practice. These surgeons may not be willing to state stringent limits for the parameters of suitable surgical candidates since this may affect their own practice.
So keep your eyes open when it comes to LASIK surgery.