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Discount Laser Centers: Bargain Eye Surgery Comes With Tradeoffs

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WebMD Health News

Jan. 28, 2000 (Minneapolis) -- If you're like other near-sighted people, the ads from so-called 'discount laser centers' may have appealed to your pocketbook. But before you decide to have laser surgery to improve your vision -- and before you consider going to a discount center -- you need to consider several factors.

Discount laser centers have benefited patients by forcing the cost of laser procedures down in all practices, Richard L. Lindstrom, MD, tells WebMD. "With this competition, we have all had to become more efficient," he says. "Because of the quality assurance programs put in place by these corporate-owned discount laser centers, the outcomes ... in these centers are probably similar to those of surgeons in private practice. The doctors at the centers are technically very good." Lindstrom is the managing partner of Minnesota Eye Consultants in Minneapolis and is also a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota.

LASIK is an anagram for laser in situ keratomileusis, the refractive surgery most commonly performed for near-sightedness. The term "refractive surgery" refers to the variety of surgeries that can be used to correct vision, including LASIK. This particular technique corrects vision by thinning a portion of the cornea.

Patients are highly interested in discount laser centers, says Lindstrom. "People are willing to travel great distances -- often to Canada and Mexico -- to get the surgery done at a reduced cost," Lindstrom tells WebMD. Typically, these centers offer a package deal of approximately $3,000 for both eyes, compared with the cost of $2,200 per eye that is typical in a private practice.

"The only thing that's missing is a meaningful doctor-patient relationship," he adds. In a practice that follows a classical model of medicine, the patient will decide which surgeon is doing the procedure. That physician will meet the patient ahead of time to talk about the surgery and what can be expected. If there are complications, the operating physician will manage them. Just "doing the surgery and never seeing the patient again" does not appeal to many physicians, says Lindstrom. Because classical medical care involves more of the physician's time, it is more costly than care in a discount center.

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