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What Is Important When Choosing A Laser Eye Surgery Clinic?

Mar 15, 2008
It is quite confusing for people looking at where to go for their laser eye surgery treatment. Especially so in London, UK where there are many laser eye clinics to choose from.

In other cities you can usually find one or more of the big three chains: Optical Express, Ultralase and Optimax and these centres are probably doing about 80% of all laser eye surgery in the UK, simply because of their wide geographical footprint and so easy access for many people.

Most people really are not sure what to look for in a laser eye surgery provider. They don't understand the difference between different laser systems and they don't have easy access to the true performance or knowledge about individual surgeons.

So most people default to the 'look and feel' of the website and clinic if and when they attend for a consultation. Most of the brochures are pretty interchangeable, all making the same claims about experience, technology etc. You could swap the company name and not really notice the difference in brochures!

I found several brochures particularly unhelpful from a patient's point of view (although all suffer from the same problem) as they simply list procedure after procedure over multiple pages. How on Earth is a patient supposed to be helped by all of that? It only leads to confusion and possibly a decision to defer until things are clearer.

There are FOUR key points to look at when choosing a clinic:

1. The laser technology
2. The surgeon
3. The clinic
4. The price

Let's look at these in more detail:

1. Laser technology

The improvements in success rates and safety of laser eye surgery, including LASIK and PRK, have been mainly down to improvements in sophistication of the laser technology. The lasers are dramatically better than they were even a few years ago.

NOTE: not all lasers are made equal, so you MUST look at the US government FDA trial results to get accurate performance information. These data are available on the results page of the Focus Laser Vision clinics website.
Also note that each clinic makes a claim that they have the best technology, but this of course cannot be true. They can't ALL have the best laser equipment, as they all have different systems. We at FOCUS bought the WaveLight Allegretto system from Germany as it had the best overall FDA clinical results in extensive trials.

2. Surgeon

Equally important for your result and safety is the surgeon who will perform the procedure and assess your suitability for treatment. The most important decision is who NOT to operate on! In the UK you can look for one or more of the following points in your surgeon: 1. NHS Consultant appointment, 2. Fellowship training in refractive surgery and corneal disease, 3. Extensive experience in treating your kind of prescription, 4. Has performed more than 5000 procedures, 5. Works in refractive surgery on a full-time basis or at least two days every week if involved in other areas of ophthalmology (the more time in refractive surgery, the better), 6. Teaching and presenting on refractive surgery skills, vision outcomes and research.

3. Clinic

Look at the support that each clinic will offer to you. Individual independent clinics can usually offer excellent continuity of care so you see the same clinician each time, but may not be as well geographically placed as some of the nationwide chain centres. Ask if you will get your surgeons private phone number after treatment in case of problems or advice being needed. This number is very reassuring for patients.

4. Price.

Last of all, look at the price. You want the above three factors to be the best you can get first of all. If you are completely satisfied you have not compromised there, then you can look for the best price, but ONLY then. High price is not a guarantee of quality, of having the best laser technology, of getting the best surgeon. It may give you these things, but you have to look and make sure for yourself.

In summary, look for yourself and ask the right questions. I have more information of the FOCUS Laser Vision clinics website on this and other related topics.
About the Author
Dr. David Allamby is medical director at FOCUS Laser Vision, a specialist laser eye surgery clinic in London, UK.
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