Be wary of Lasik

Singapore November 22nd, 2007

Singaporeans who are going for Lasik should be aware of the dangers behind the surgery. While it is considered to be a simply procedure, but it still involves removing a bodily part and letting it heal.

Patients should always note that, as with any surgery, there are risks – which can involve temporal loss of vision to permanent loss. The patient should then consult the doctor on any questions that he or she has before making a decision. Remember, the patient should always weight the benefits and cost of going for such surgery. Real people have lost vision because of surgeries that didn’t go well – and it could happen to anyone.

THE Ministry of Health (MOH), concerned over misleading advertisements by some Lasik clinics, wants to meet eye surgeons tomorrow to discuss what can or cannot go into their ads.

A letter from MOH to all ophthalmologists doing Lasik said it has received feedback that some print and online advertisements have given the public ‘unrealistic expectations’ about what the procedure can fix.

Results are oversold, while the risks and possible side-effects are downplayed.

And some ads cite success rates for Lasik done elsewhere, said an MOH spokesman.

Several ophthalmologists in private practice told The Straits Times that they felt the ministry’s warning was a matter of time in coming.

After all, the market for the surgical treatment of myopia or near-sightedness is red hot. Thousands of people from here and overseas have been flocking to eye surgeons for the procedure.

With Lasik surgery being ‘cosmetic’, these patients do not get government subsidies; neither can they draw down on their Medisave funds for the operation, so people often go to ophthalmologists in private practice.

But even so, public sector hospitals have done more than 6,000 Lasik operations in the past year.

Private clinics and hospitals do not reveal their patient numbers, but one private clinic claims to do 1,600 Lasik procedures every month.

Competition is so stiff that some clinics offer ‘discounts’ to patients who sign up immediately or who are willing to do both eyes at the same time.

Some in medical circles are concerned that, in the race for the patient’s dollar, proper ‘before’ and ‘after’ care may be compromised, or that patients are not briefed on the risk of post-surgery complications. Worse, they fear some surgeons are taking on patients not suited for the treatment.

Dr Jerry Tan, an ophthalmologist in private practice, has been seeing more patients from other clinics who need ‘repair jobs’ – five to six such patients a week, up from three to four a year ago.

‘Most come because of poor night vision and over- or under-correction,’ he said. Some have more serious complications, like the one patient he has seen whose sight in one eye has been permanently damaged.

Dr Gerard Chuah, another private practitioner, says that on average, he tends to three complaints a month, mainly related to the side effects of Lasik.

Women in their 40s and up, for example, have a higher risk of getting permanently dry eyes.

One patient Dr Chuah came across now sees four of everything – the result of his previous surgeon not letting a badly-cut cornea flap heal first before going ahead with the Lasik procedure proper.

While doctors agree that Lasik is generally a very safe procedure, patients should know there are risks.

Precision is key in Lasik, he said, adding: ‘The distance between a good outcome and a mediocre or disastrous one is a fraction of a millimetre.’

The Singapore National Eye Centre has seen at least one patient who needed a corneal transplant after a botched Lasik job.

Dr Lee Hung Ming, the medical director of Parkway Eye Centre, had this piece of advice for patients: ‘Avoid the centre that hard-sells you the procedure or the surgeon who does not have time to see you for your most important pre-operative and post-operative consultations.’

And here’s an account from a Lasik patient whose vision became worse after surgery. If necessary, always get a second opinion.

SALES executive Caroline Teo (picture), 43, was plagued by headaches, which she put down to one eye having better vision than the other. So she went to get Lasik surgery done on her bad eye.

Her eyesight did not improve. In fact, it got worse. The clinic assured her she only had dry eyes, and that it would get better over time.

A month after the surgery, she learnt from another doctor that her poor vision was caused by a well-developed cataract – not myopia or near-sightedness, which Lasik is designed for.

She said: ‘I cried. My eyesight is now even worse than before.’

She is now kicking herself for being ‘stupid’ by picking a clinic based on price, and for going ahead with treatment by a doctor who only did a cursory check on her – she was examined by assistants before being declared suitable for Lasik, a judgment the doctor agreed with.

She has since filed a report against the doctor who operated on her with the Singapore Medical Council.


Article obtained from on 22nd November 2007

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