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How to Find a Qualified Ophthalmologist

Yara Zakharia, Esq.

Our eyes offer a window to the world and are one of our most invaluable assets. They are also a delicate part of our anatomy; as such, the decision to undergo laser eye surgery requires careful consideration. In view of the irreversible nature of corrective eye surgery and the potential risks associated with the medical procedure, finding the right and skilled ophthalmologist takes on added importance and is in the prospective patient's best interest. The surgeon must not only be qualified, but also be a professional who evokes a sense of trust and comfort in the patient.

An ophthalmologist is a board-certified physician who is a specialist in diagnosing and treating eye diseases and conditions. He is the only eye doctor who is authorized to perform eye surgery. Before choosing an ophthalmologist, individuals contemplating vision correction should do their homework by conducting some research and asking the right questions. What follows are some guidelines for selecting a reputable ophthalmologist:

  1. Experience

Numerous studies have found a correlation between an eye surgeon's experience and a safe and successful laser surgery. The more experience that an ophthalmologist has, the less likely complications will arise. Some experts recommend choosing a physician who has performed at least 500 vision correction procedures, while others raise the experience threshold to a minimum of 1,000 laser eye surgeries. Of even greater importance, however, is the surgeon's success in handling complications.

Consumers should also opt for surgeons who are experienced in performing a wide array of procedures such as Lasek, PRK, clear lens replacement, and Lasik eye surgery and who are familiar with the newest technology. Such practitioners are better able to advise clients on the procedure that is best tailored to their specific vision problem.

  1. Qualifications

Prospective patients should not be swayed by laser surgery ads offering discount pricing. Cost should not be a decisive factor when choosing an ophthalmologist. After all, most laser surgery centers offer financing options to assist patients in covering the cost of the procedure. Rather, consumers should place a premium on the surgeon's credentials, competence, and reputation. A good starting point would be determining whether the ophthalmologist is affiliated with an eye clinic, a medical association or a teaching hospital, the latter generally offering access to state-of-the-art laser eye technology due to the fact that it is a research environment. Consumers can select a doctor associated with a respected organization such as the American Academy of Ophthalmology or with the American College of Surgeons, which boasts high credentialing standards. 

  1. Enhancement Rate

This refers to the number of eyes necessitating follow-up treatment in order to achieve optimal vision. Experts maintain that an ophthalmologist's percentage of enhancements should be inferior to 10%.

  1. Participation

Prospective eye surgery patients should choose an ophthalmologist who is fully-engaged in the process from the pre-operative to the post-operative stage. In other words, the surgeon selected should be the one performing the pre-operative screening and the corrective eye surgery, as well as monitoring the patient's eyes in the weeks following the procedure to ensure that healing is taking its course.   

  1. Primary Emphasis On Laser Eye Surgery

Consumers should consider selecting an ophthalmologist whose practice focuses primarily on vision correction. This will benefit the patient since the physician will be more familiar with the former's issues, questions, and needs.

  1. A Good Personality Fit

Prospective patients should choose an ophthalmologist who is attentive to their needs and trustworthy. They must feel at ease sharing their concerns and questions with the surgeon. Consumers should feel out the office environment and take a tour of the premises to make sure that the clinic or office is comfortable, tidy, and hygienic. Furthermore, they should not get the impression that they are simply a statistic. The ophthalmologist should be willing to offer the telephone numbers or email addresses of former patients so that the prospective client can obtain feedback about their experiences.

  1. Thorough Explanation Of Risks

A good eye surgeon will provide balanced information and be forthright about the benefits of laser eye surgery as well as the potential risks and complications associated with the procedure. He or she will also patiently entertain and address any questions from prospective clients.

  1. Internet or Yellow Pages Search

Consumers can easily find a refractive eye surgeon by visiting the American Academy of Ophthalmology's website, which features a "Find an Eye MD" section. There are numerous online directories of experienced laser eye surgeons and reputable corrective vision centers throughout the country. Lists of eye surgeons, physician recommendations, citations of ophthalmologists in medical journals, and laser eye surgery testimonials of past patients are also available on the internet. Consumers can also search the website of specific ophthalmologists or corrective eye surgery centers for information about their specialties, credentials, and services.   

  1. Personal References

Another reliable source of ophthalmologist referrals are friends, relatives, and family members who have undergone laser eye surgery.

  1. Recommendations From Eye Doctors

Consumers may ask their eye care doctor for a referral to a professional and reputable eye surgeon in their area.

  1. Consultation With Eye Surgeons

Prospective eye surgery patients may request a consultation appointment with an ophthalmologist and ask him or her, the following questions:

    • Length of time in practice and number of years he or she has been performing eye surgery (preferably at least 3 years)
    • Number of laser surgeries performed
    • Number of patients who have achieved 20/20 vision or better following the procedure (The norm is 65%)
    • Type of laser and equipment utilized and whether it is FDA-approved

[page updated December 2008]
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