Utah is the second highest per capita state for LASIK procedures, says Dr. Jay Clark, refractive surgeon in Orem. The only other state with a higher per capita ratio is Colorado.
“Although conservative in some areas, in Utah we are medically progressive,” Clark explains. “Utah residents also enjoy the outdoors; therefore, they see the immediate benefits of corrective surgery.”
And experts say the LASIK craze is just beginning. Area doctors say they’ve only reached 1 percent to 2 percent penetration of those who are eligible in the market.
“As with many new technologies used in medicine, the public likes to wait and see,” says Dr. Randal Ellsworth, ophthalmologist with Excel Eye Center. “The public is turning more and more toward LASIK as it has been proven time and time again to be safe and accurate.”
LASIK, which was FDA approved in 1995, allows many recipients their first chance to find the baby’s crib in the night without stumbling or to stay overnight somewhere on a moment’s notice.
“For millions of people suffering from nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism, LASIK has become the beginning of a new kind of life, a new kind of freedom,” Ellsworth says.
But not everyone is a good candidate for the panacea for poor eyesight.
In fact, Clark says there are two reasons for bad candidates. First, some eyes aren’t ideal for the procedure. Secondly, some patients have too high of expectations. After LASIK they expect to see much better than they did with their glasses or contact lenses.
“Some of our patients describe their new 20/20 vision without lenses just hours after their LASIK,” Dr. Clark says. “For others, it may take longer. Other patients, especially those over 40, choose to have one eye at 20/20 to see at a distance and the other eye set to see best for reading.”
No matter what the age or need of the patient, the end goal is the same.
“Our goal is to make our patients 20/happy,” Dr. Clark says. “Eyes are different at different ages, and we customize the procedure accordingly.”
Although the market penetration has yet to peak, area LASIK specialists seem to have plenty of business.
In Dr. Clark’s packed office, he has a television monitor showing an up-close look at the surgery he is currently performing.
Nancy Lilya, communications director of the Lasik Center of Utah, says some patients are too squeamish to see the monitor while others are put at ease by watching the simple, 15-minute procedure before taking their turn under the laser.
Nearly 1 million Americans took their turn having LASIK performed last year. The popularity of the procedure continues to grow as awareness and understanding spreads.
LASIK treats vision problems by reshaping the cornea. This is done with a computer-controlled beam of cool laser light, which gently removes a tiny layer of tissue from the cornea. The procedure only requires local anesthesia administered through eye drops before surgery.
Local surgeons urge patients to select a competent surgeon to do the procedure.
Ellsworth and Dr. Jesse Hunsaker, also with Excel Eye Center, encourage potential LASIK patients to schedule an appointment with the surgeon before the surgery in order for the patient and doctor to get to know one other. In addition, patients should ask doctors about their training and the number of LASIK procedures they have performed. Surgeons should also be available for post-operative visits if needed.
“Most experts agree that choosing a surgeon is the biggest determining factor when it comes to the quality of the care you receive,” Ellsworth says. “The choice of doctors in Utah County is excellent — as good if not better than those in Salt Lake.”
Area surgeons are concerned about discount places offering bargain prices for LASIK while not providing necessary services.
“Many of the doctors there have little to no experience,” Ellsworth says. “In fact, the patient may never see the doctor before going into the surgical room to have LASIK performed.”