Every year we speak to thousands of patients who are looking to improve their vision and achieve freedom from glasses and contacts through procedures such as LASIK. All of these patients have questions, and many of them have concerns and even fears about surgical vision correction. While many of these questions and concerns are unique, there are some that seem to be fairly common.
In this ongoing column, we will address some of the most commonly expressed questions about LASIK and other vision correction procedures, and provide authoritative answers based on the knowledge of the most experienced refractive surgery team in Utah.
Is discount LASIK worth the “discount”?
Q: I keep hearing about places claiming to offer LASIK for like $299 an eye. Is that for real?
A: It depends on your definition of “real!” At this point, discount LASIK chains have been around almost as long as LASIK itself has, though the individual companies keep going out of business as they’re sued or lose money. In the end, the choice of whether or not to have vision correction surgery, and where to have it, is a personal choice based on a patient’s own research and priorities. However, we have been performing LASIK for over two decades now – since the very beginning – and we’ve seen a lot of discount LASIK places come and go over the years. In the interest of helping patients make the most informed choices possible, here are some things we have observed, and some suggestions:
1. Advertised claims such as “$299 per eye!” sound too good to be true because they are. Look at the fine print at the bottom of one of those ads, or call their office, and you will quickly find that the rock-bottom advertised price is available to only a tiny percentage of people, and that the vast majority are charged far, far more.
2. Look out for hidden fees and upcharges. Even once you realize that the impossibly low advertised price is in fact impossible in your case, be aware that the price you are quoted at a discount LASIK center will be for an absolute bare minimum of services. Postoperative care is usually only six months, sometimes only three. Any guarantee the surgeon is willing to make to you (if a guarantee is even available) is likely to be an upcharge. Some discount centers even offer blade-free LASIK only as an additional charge, keeping around the outdated and less safe bladed technology because it’s cheaper to use. The surgery “counselors” at many of these establishments are in fact commissioned salespeople, who receive incentives for convincing you to buy these upgraded services.
In comparison, the price quoted to you for LASIK at Hoopes Vision reflects the best available technology and includes everything: a full year of postoperative care as well as our lifetime See Clearly Guarantee – an assurance of great vision not only now, but in the years to come. The surgery counselors at Hoopes Vision have no upgrades to sell you, since every patient gets our very best. Their only goal is to educate you about our services, and help you make the decision that is the best one for you.
3. Safety first. In the two decades that LASIK has existed, the technology has progressed constantly, bringing newer, faster, more precise lasers to market. These technological advances are significant: they mean safer procedures and better outcomes for patients. For example, the advent of blade-free LASIK made an already safe procedure even safer by replacing the hand-held microkeratome blade with a fast, computer-guided laser.
At this point, blade-free LASIK has been in use for over a decade, and it has virtually eliminated the most common flap-related complications associated with traditional bladed LASIK. Yet there are still a minority of LASIK surgeons who continue to use the blade. In light of the overwhelming evidence that blade-free LASIK is safer, with a faster recovery and better visual outcomes, it is our opinion that any LASIK surgeon still using the blade in 2016 is likely doing so purely as a cost-saving measure rather than in his or her patients’ best interest.
4. Make sure to compare apples to apples. Don’t let anyone tell you that “LASIK is just LASIK.” Despite their claims, the lasers utilized by many bargain basement discount laser chains are usually not of the same high quality that most experienced and respected surgeons use. These outdated lasers cost less to acquire and operate and, in the opinion of most respected and nationally recognized laser surgeons, do not produce the same high level of results as the currently utilized newer generation lasers. Currently, many discount chains do not utilize the most modern wavefront technology, which is critical for the best possible results. This is a significant difference: wavefront-optimized lasers were the first ones certified by the FDA to reduce nighttime halo and glare when compared to earlier generation lasers.
5. Ask to meet the doctor. Since discount LASIK shops are set up as a business first, medical practice second, the surgeon is usually either an employee like any other, or an independent contractor. Most of them work for multiple centers, rotating from one clinic to the next. These surgeons-for-hire, known in the industry as “shooters,” are often doctors recently out of school, or doctors who, for a variety of reasons, were not busy in private practice. (We know of no LASIK surgeon who has ever voluntarily abandoned his or her own successful private practice in order to go to work for a discount chain.)
Because these doctors are independent of the clinics where they operate, the only contact the patient will have with a discount surgeon is often during their laser treatment. “Counselors” or technicians frequently perform the preoperative screening to see if a patient is a candidate. Patients may not be able to choose their surgeon and may have to take who might be available that day. Under these circumstances, a doctor-patient relationship is difficult to establish unless a surgical complication happens.
At Hoopes Vision, the team of LASIK surgeons is the most experienced in the state, and one of the most experienced in the entire country. Every prospective LASIK patient who comes to Hoopes Vision meets a doctor – the surgeon himself, unless he is in surgery that day – at the first appointment, and has the opportunity to ask any questions he or she may have.