The eyes have it

Corrective eye surgery using a laser has become a fairly common procedure in American medicine. There is a long list of doctors who perform the operation, which is considered very safe.

But before you let someone shoot a laser into your eye,s make sure you are asking the right questions.

There are three main areas to evaluate before choosing a doctor to perform the procedure: the surgeon, the clinic and the staff.

The surgeon. “Ask the surgeon if they are board certified in opthamology and where they went to school,” says Kerry Assil, international medical director for Aris Vision Inc. in Santa Monica, Calif.

Assil, who has performed thousands of procedures and operated on the likes of actor Brad Pitt and actress Courtney Cox Arquette, says you should also ask how long the surgeon has been out of school and how many procedures he or she has performed.

A doctor with experience will have performed more than 1,000 operations. The ideal is to have someone who has been out of school between five and 20 years — long enough to have plenty of experience, but not so long as to be out of touch with the latest techniques.

“Ask the doctor if they have a list of satisfied patients you could call and speak to,” says Assil. “The list should be long.”

While all doctors try to protect their patients, if the surgeon freezes up or dodges the question, it might be an indication that something is wrong.

A surgeon who has authored scientific publications or textbook chapters, or has served as an instructor for a manufacturer’s equipment is another plus, because it indicates leadership in their field.

The clinic. Any laser used by the clinic should be certified by the Food and Drug Administration. You should feel comfortable asking the doctor to put in writing that the laser is FDA approved for the specific procedure to be performed. There are times when a nonapproved device may need to be used, but that is rare and the doctor should fully explain why.

“Get in writing that everyone in the operation room will be in surgical attire,” says Assil. “It sounds like common sense, but one-third to one-half of all clinics don’t comply with this rule.”

Also get in writing that all supplies will be disposed of and all equipment sterilized between patients.

The eye exam itself should take at least an hour, and should be the most thorough exam of your life. If the doctor says that LASIK — the most common type of laser surgery — is for everyone, then be concerned.

“It’s the simplest and quickest to perform,” says Assil. “But not everyone’s cornea is shaped to get the best results with it. That’s why some people complain of night vision problems — it’s a lack of customization of procedures.”

The staff. You should not feel like you are being rushed, or herded like sheep.

One sign of being rushed is the offer to operate right away. Contacts typically need to be out for five to seven days to enable the doctor to get accurate measurements of the eye. Also, there should be two measurements taken of your eyes, on two different days, to guarantee the accuracy of the measurements.

“Ask the staff and the doctor why you should be cared for by the doctor and the center,” says Assil. “It enables people to express why they are in a qualified position to care for your eyes.”

How to reach: Aris Vision, (310) 453-8911

Todd Shryock ([email protected]) is SBN’s special reports editor.