The Art of Choosing an Eye Care Specialist

by | August 16, 2010 @ 02:00PM

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Medical procedures can be scary for those non-medically oriented, and it's a natural tendency for a patient to want to know as few of the graphic details as possible. People are especially squeamish when it comes to their eyes. When considering surgery to correct imperfect vision, nearly all respected professionals in the ophthalmology field agree that an educated patient is the best patient. In this article, we're assuming that you're considering the possibility of corrective vision surgery. Furthermore, we're assuming that your first avenue of exploration will be Lasik, by far the most popular vision enhancement surgery currently being performed. If you're like the vast majority of Lasik patients, this decision will change your life for the better, but the procedure is not without its risks, detractors, and unhappy patients – indeed, a few highly skilled eye surgeons have built lucrative practices redoing Lasik for those unfortunate enough to fall in the last category. recommends that you take a few steps to stack the odds in favor of an excellent outcome.

Step One – Have your eyes checked out by an experienced eye care physician.

If you ask a barber's opinion, they'll tell you that you need a haircut. If you go to one of the many Laser vision centers popping up across the country, they'll most likely extol the virtues of Lasik and, after an examination (assuming that you fall within the Lasik – ready pool, as a majority of corrective lens wearing Americans do), pronounce you a good candidate for Lasik, segueing quickly into payment options. This should come as no surprise. Lasik is big business, and, while there are exceptions, most budget Lasik centers thrive on quantity.

At, we recommend that you see an experienced eye physician with a strong emphasis in corneal specialty and get a full examination to determine your refraction & correction level. This should get you into the hands of the most qualified and experienced surgeon for your individualized prescription needs.

Unlike dentists, your eye physician won't be sticking instruments into your mouth – use this to your advantage by asking lots of questions. An ophthalmologist whose practice isn't built on performing Lasik should be more impartial, and better able to help you weigh the possible risks against the benefits. University based medical eye centers are a good place to find such research oriented ophthalmologists.

With this information in mind, you should ask your doctor what expectations you should realistically have. Optimism reigns in the profit driven world of budget Lasik, and the potential downside is often overlooked. Terms like "20/20 vision" are often mentioned by those in the Lasik business, but just because you can read the second to last, or "20" line, doesn't mean that you'll have clear, quality vision. While the majority of the procedures done at budget Lasik centers turn out just fine, a complaint commonly leveled against them is that they downplay the seriousness of Lasik surgery in an effort to lure in customers ("Two corneal modifications coming right up – would you like fries with that?")

Step two – Chose your practitioner carefully.

The chances are good that if your doctor recommends any procedure at all, it will be Lasik. If, for whatever reason, another procedure is recommended, your doctor should be able to help you find a suitable practitioner. You can also check out's practitioner section to find a qualified experienced eye physician near you. Whether you wind up choosing Lasik or another procedure, and whether you go through a private practitioner or a vision center, you'll want to take certain steps to make sure that your procedure is performed by a qualified specialist. Having the procedure done by a private practitioner will almost certainly be more expensive than having it done at one of the larger vision centers, and the extra expense does not necessarily guarantee better results. The best way to stack the odds in your favor is to do your homework before scheduling a consultation. We recommend first doing the following checks before meeting with the doctor (may not be tactful to do while in the doctor's office).

  • Confirm that the surgeon is certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology ("ABO"). ABO-certified physicians have graduated from an accredited medical school, completed one year of internship and three or more years of specialized medical, surgical, and refractive training and have experience in eye care. To be Board certified, the doctor must have passed comprehensive written and oral examinations given by the ABO. Additionally, verify that the doctor has had training in refractive surgery.
  • Verify the education of the physician. Verify through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education that the medical school listed by the physician is accredited. Your physician may also list membership in medical associations, academies or societies. You may want to contact the specific organization to inquire about its entry requirements.
  • Verify the physician is licensed to practice medicine in the state he/she is located. Contact the State's Medical Licensing Board. This number is listed in the State Government section of your phone book.
  • Check for legal actions. Contact the County Clerk's Office of the county in which the physician has practiced or is practicing to verify court actions.
  • Additional things to look for in a good physician:
    • Has the surgeon done a fellowship or mini-fellowship in corneal specialty?
    • Is the doctor part of research teams in relationship with these types of procedures? And is he/she published in his/her research areas?
    • Has the surgeon written for scientific publications?
    • What avenues has the doctor written or lectured in, either, local, regional, national, or international?
    • What Academic institutions or affiliations does he/she have?

Once you've done all this and determined that the doctor you have in mind is competent, qualified, and innocent of all crimes and misdemeanors, make a pre-screening appointment for laser vision correction or other recommended refractive procedure. In our next section, we'll talk about questions to ask your doctor once you've met face to face, and making sure that your expectations are realistic. We'll also be including a brief cautionary tale that should make you think twice about shopping for surgery based on price alone.

Part two: Meeting the doctor

A good question to ask when making the appointment is "Will I be able to meet the surgeon before the day of the examination?" – If you find out that you won't be able to meet the surgeon before the day of the procedure, that can be taken as a sign that the practitioner might not be spending enough time with each individual patient, a red flag in my book. If this isn't the case (and it shouldn't be), then you should schedule a pre-Lasik screening. This will allow you plenty of time for...

Step three – A friendly grilling.

This procedure should take between two and three hours, which will give you ample time to get to know your doctor. Be sure and make the following part of your normal, polite doctor-patient chit chat:

Ask you doctor the following questions: (Questions to ask your Doctor)

As part of these questions ask, "so, how many of these procedures have you performed?" Be specific, asking about the procedure that you're considering. For example, a doctor whose resume includes 2,000 "refractive" procedures might have performed 1980 cataract removals and only 20 laser vision corrective procedures. Be as specific as possible when questioning your doctor. Don't be afraid to ask if they've had any less than satisfied patients.

Another powerful tool for uncovering past complaints against a practitioner is the Internet. Enter the name of a practitioner into a few search engines, such as Alta Vista or Yahoo. If any complaints have been made against the doctor by dissatisfied clients, chances are good that they've been posted on the web.

Step four – Have realistic expectations.

So now you've verified that your procedure will be performed by a qualified specialist, one who's at the top of his/her game. The last bit of mental preparation you need to make involves your own expectations. Talk to your doctor about what kind of outcome you can expect. This varies from individual to individual, and eye to eye. There will most likely be side effects after your surgery – these too vary from patient to patient, and, in most cases, fade and disappear with time. By being clear about all the possible outcomes, you set the stage for a successful procedure that will change the way you see the world.

Shopping price ~ A cautionary tale

Two barbers, located across the street from each other, are having a price war. The first barber advertises $22.00 haircuts – the second counters with $20.00 haircuts. The first lowers his price to $18.00, and the second down to $16.00. The price lowering continues for months, until the second barber's price is down to $2.00 and he has so many customers that he has to allot only ten minutes per haircut, leaving many clients dissatisfied. Seeing this, the first barber has an epiphany.

The next day, he hangs up a sign ~ "I FIX $2.00 HAIRCUTS -- $25.00"

Useful links for verifying the credentials of your doctor - American Board of Ophthalmology. Patients can call the ABO to find out whether an ophthalmologist is certified, 610-664-1175. - American Academy of Ophthalmology. Approximately 95% of all ophthalmologists in the US are members of AAO. - Liaison Committee on Medical Education. This organization accredits medical schools in the US and Canada. Click on "Directory of Accredited Medical Education Programs" to verify the accreditation of your doctor's medical school.

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