Annually, well more than one million Americans have refractive surgery to correct their vision. Refractive surgery is any type of surgery that alters the refractive power of the eye. Lasik is the most well known of the procedures, but others are available, including Lasek, PRK, and Epi-Lasik. Most of the refractive surgeries rely on laser, but Conductive Keratoplasty (CK) uses radio wave energy.
Unfortunately, as common as the procedures have become, preventable injuries do occur. Most of the injuries can be divided into five major categories:
- Contraindications for surgery
- Surgeon error
- Failure to treat postoperative complications in a timely and proper manner
- Failure to obtain informed consent
- Equipment malfunction
Contraindications for Refractive Surgery
Some patients are poor candidates for refractive surgery. Eye diseases, such as keratoconus, corneal dystropies, or retinal detachments, are the most common contraindications for these patients.
A surgeon is supposed to evaluate the patient prior to surgery. A policy statement from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AA0) explains the reasoning for the surgeon evaluation:
“The best interest of the preoperative patient is served by preoperative evaluation by the operating surgeon. Ethical and qualify of care standards are met only if the individual patient’s needs are addressed…. It is the ophthalmologist’s responsibility to provide quality control, prospectively, in the preoperative assessment.”
Unfortunately, the preoperative evaluation by the surgeon is not always done. This increases the chances that contraindications are missed. The consequences of performing surgery with contraindications can be extremely severe, including the need for corneal transplants.
Other reasons for negative surgical outcomes include poor skills of technicians responsible for reading measurements and surgeons taking unnecessary chances.
The surgeon’s inadequate technique or skills may result in poor alignment of the corneal flap or cutting into the cornea. In some instances, the wrong prescription is programmed into the laser.
Failure to treat postoperative complications in a timely and proper manner
By its very nature, Lasik surgery involves trauma to the cornea. This may result in certain, yet medically acceptable, complications. These complications must be addressed quickly and responsibly. If they are not, serious permanent damage can be the result. In some high volume facilities, post surgical care is delegated from the surgeon to assistants. This is frowned upon by the AAO.
Failure to obtain informed consent
Some poor or marginal candidates are told they are ideal candidates, or the subject is not discussed at all. When a bad result occurs under these circumstances, the surgeon/facility are extremely vulnerable to attack, as well they should be. Not so when full and complete disclosure is given. In most instances, the poor or marginal candidate who is given the complete picture, may waive the potential negative outcomes in advance.
The equipment used for these surgeries is extremely delicate and requires regular and careful maintenance by trained medical staff. Some facilities fail to slow the surgery schedule to perform proper maintenance.
Refractive eye surgery is big business. Representations abound about its safety and results. Patients begin to believe that the procedures are risk free. They are not. Surgeon error, poor equipment maintenance, and simple greed are common risk factors. The patient should ask questions of the surgeon and the facility. Better to be safe than sorry.
Contact us at 866-785-GALE or by email to learn your legal rights.
Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.