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Medical Malpractice in LASIK Surgery

LASIK (Laser Assisted in Situ Keratomileusis) surgery is a relatively new procedure that reshapes a patient’s cornea in an effort to reduce or eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses. The procedure is quick, generally taking around 15 minutes to complete. During this time, the physician cuts a flap on the front of the eye and moves it aside in order to access the cornea. He or she then reshapes the cornea with a laser in order to correct the vision problem.

The number of procedures performed each year is growing rapidly, and Lasik is now the most frequent surgery performed in the United States. Centers offering the Lasik procedure are flourishing, and they even exist in shopping malls. The price of the procedure is dropping, and millions of dollars in advertising have been spent to convince potential patients that the procedure is extremely safe and effective.

Critics of Lasik charge that its promoters are putting profits ahead of quality care for patients. They claim that the intense competition for patients has reduced the prices to levels that are not sustainable unless the clinics schedule too many patients in any given day. This gives rise to the potential of insufficient care for those patients.

While the vast majority of the over one million patients who undergo the Lasik procedure are satisfied with its outcome, Lasik is still surgery, and as with any medical procedure, there can be serious complications. Dangers involved in the procedure may include the following: inadequate techniques in the slicing of the corneal flap; inability to smooth out the flap after the surgery, blade and suction mishaps, microkeratome slippage, suction ring misalignments, debris, or infection. In addition, patients claim healing complications that cause blurring and astigmatism. With an increasing number of Lasik-related errors, some patients who are unhappy with the outcome of their surgeries are filing malpractice actions against their surgeons.

The fact that Lasik is a fairly new procedure makes it potentially difficult to establish that the doctor did not conform to good medical practices, which is a required step in a medical malpractice action. Disagreement on the standard of care exists even among surgeons performing the procedure. In addition, it may be difficult to find an expert witness who knows and can communicate the standards of the Lasik procedure. Surgeons who perform the procedure have an economic interest in protecting the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Another difficulty in a Lasik-related malpractice case is the difficulty in establishing that the patient suffered an injury. The standard eye chart used to measure vision based on the 20/20 standard only tests the ability of a patient to read pure black letters on a pure white background. This test does not measure the type of injuries claimed by Lasik patients; that is, the reduced ability to see in dim light or in glare, or to distinguish between subtle shades of colors. While tests do exist that measure these abilities, it may require a high degree of skill to communicate the results of these tests to a jury.

Possible defendants in a Lasik-related action are the ophthalmologist who actually performed the procedure and the referring physician, who is usually either another ophthalmologist or an optometrist. Other defendants might include the surgery center itself and the manufacturers of the equipment used in the procedure.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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