COVER STORY Laser Cataract Surgery:the Next New Thing in Ophthalmology Mainstream consumers’ experiences foster more rapid adoption across the spectrum of technological innovation, including what you have to offer as an eye surgeon. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVII n 2010, ophthalmologists became aware of the next elective when they began allowing patients to pay sepa- big revolution in the field: using a femtosecond laser to rately for the use of specific IOLs (presbyopia-correcting perform cataract surgery. Seemingly out of nowhere, or toric) and/or specific devices that may improve their four companies emerged with announcements, booth refractive outcomes. The femtosecond laser is anotherdemonstrations, and approvals. Those fortunate to be at tool that is showing great promise for delivering a clinicalthe Aspen Invitational Refractive Symposium in March of benefit in terms of both improved visual results and fewerthat year sat in awe as Stephen Slade, MD, showed videos complications.of his first cases. These were performed not experimental- A recent survey of cataract and refractive surgeonsly outside the United States but commercially, and fully (N = 53; cataract procedures per year = 50,100) who areFDA approved, in his Houston-based office. Yes, his office, planning on adopting the femtosecond laser showed anot the surgery center or hospital. range of opinions as to what percentage of their current Later in the year, Alcon Laboratories, Inc. (Forth Worth, base of cataract patients will choose to have laser cataractTX), acquired LenSx Lasers Inc. (Aliso Viejo, CA), a move surgery. Broken down into three groups of patients (currentthat validated this new category as “for real,” given that the premium IOL, additional premium IOL, and standard IOLacquisition took place prior to any revenue-based ship- patients with astigmatism), opinions vary widely amongments. There is much excitement and anticipation among surgeons as to how many of their patients will also choosesurgeons who want to offer laser cataract surgery to their (and pay for) use of the laser. Further analysis of survey datapatients. Is the buzz warranted? This article examines the shows that surgeons predict that approximately 30% ofmain questions that seem to be on everyone’s mind. their cataract patients will also have their procedure performed with a laser (Table 1).WHO WILL PAY FOR IT? Many surgeons wonder, who is going to pay for the DO WE NEED IT?procedure? That answer is easy: the patient. Refractive Some observers may contend that cataract surgery issurgery—and all of elective medicine—has been devel- already safe and effective. It is, after all, the most widelyoped on the premise that patients are consumers who performed surgical procedure in the United States. Basedpay directly for their elective procedures. Laser vision cor- on my communications with several surgeons involved inrection is just one of myriad procedures that patients laser cataract surgery, however, data still document intra-choose to pay for to see, look, sleep, smile, and feel better. operative complications, as evidenced by reports that Cataract surgery has a refractive component that the three to five vitrectomy packs are sold for every 100 phacoCenters for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) deemed packs. Of these, one can be attributed to a planned proce- MARCH 2011 CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY 83
COVER STORY IMPACT OF THE FEMTOSECOND LASER ON PATIENTS’ DECISION MAKING IN CATARACT SURGERY SURVEY OF CATARACT AND REFRACTIVE SURGEONS (N = 53) KEY DEMOGRAPHICS OF SURVEY What percentage of your current premium IOL patients would also have the laser for their cataract surgery? • Total number of surgeons: 53 • Total cataract procedures/year: 50,100 • Average procedures per surgeon: 945 (range, 100-4,000) • Conversion rate to premium IOL:* 26% (range, 7%-75%) (*Premium IOL includes presbyopic and toric.) (Fee for premium IOL increases by up to $1,000 per eye to incorporate laser into their surgery.) How many more patients would choose a premium Among your standard IOL patients who present IOL if you were able to offer the laser for their with astigmatism, how many would choose the laser cataract surgery? for their cataract surgery? (Fee for premium IOL increases by up to $1,000 per eye to incorporate laser into their surgery.) (Fee of $1,000 per eye is charged directly to the patient.) dure, but vitrectomies handled with Weck-Cel sponges widespread acceptance and was followed by products (Medtronic ENT, Jacksonville, FL) are not reported. The from several other manufacturers. Today, the femtosecond balance, unfortunately, are necessitated by broken cap- laser is used to create the majority of LASIK flaps globally. sules, which may lead to inferior outcomes. Consumers have shown a willingness to pay several hun- The promise to make cataract surgery safer and less dred dollars more for the added safety (both real and per- prone to complications appeals to consumers, especially ceived) that a laser-based flap brings to LASIK.2 when they already have to pay out of pocket for added Consumers place a high value on safety and reduced benefits such as presbyopia-correcting IOLs and astigmatic risk. Seat belts for driving, insurance against catastro- correction. A case in point is LASIK, the first breakthrough phe, and helmets for bicycling are just three examples use of the femtosecond-wavelength laser. The question, do of how safety permeates decision making in our society. we need it? was asked 10 years ago (including by the The same will hold true for laser cataract surgery. author1) when the femtosecond laser was being developed to create the LASIK flap. With time, clinical experience, WILL IT GROW THE MARKET? and technological refinement, the IntraLase FS Laser plat- What will the laser’s impact be on the demand for form (Abbott Medical Optics Inc., Santa Ana, CA) gained cataract surgery? This may be the wrong question to ask.84 CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY MARCH 2011
COVER STORYIn the LASIK category, consumer demand is driven by that was thought highly unlikely—right up until itmultiple variables that extend beyond clinical efficacy happened.and safety. They include the economy, positive and neg-ative press, and demographics. Refractive surgeons’ rev- A ROBUST MARKETenue and profitability increased with their adoption of The activity among manufacturers is underway, andthe femtosecond laser, and the availability of a laser-cre- multiple competitors in this category will form aated flap permitted patients to choose a premium form robust market. Innovation will make these laser plat-of LASIK. In hindsight, it is clear that the market, in a forms increasingly functional and easy to use. Alcon’ssense, has voted for the femtosecond laser’s use in LASIK. LenSx laser as well as those from LensAR, Inc. (Winter With cataract surgery, a very different market dynamic Park, FL), OptiMedica Corporation (Santa Clara, CA),is at work. The demand is already in place, with more and Technolas Perfect Vision (St. Louis, MO) were onthan 3.3 million procedures performed in the United display at last year’s AAO meeting. Technolas hasStates (18.9 million worldwide) in 2010. This market is taken an innovative step by showing a combined sys-already three to four times as large as that for LASIK and tem that allows the surgeon to use the same laser fordoes not need to be built from scratch year after year. cataract surgery as the creation of the LASIK flap. Surgeons and industry should focus on market con- Abbott Medical Optics Inc. has announced plans toversion rather than expansion. The business objective upgrade its IntraLase platform to perform at least partaround conversion is twofold. In the near term, it is of the cataract’s extraction.about improving the conversion of cataract surgery to Companies are refining their plans for commercial-premium cataract surgery, where much greater value for ization, securing regulatory approvals, and developingthe services performed is communicated, accepted, the financial models that will allow surgeons to inte-paid for, and realized by both the patient and the sur- grate an expensive capital device. There is healthygeon. Several key steps have already been taken, notably merger-and-acquisition activity in the field as well,the ruling by the CMS allowing surgeons to charge showing that investors believe in the value of thispatients separately for premium IOLs, advanced meas- technology. Given the unknowns, manufacturers’ helpurements, and enhancements. Collectively, these are will be essential to ophthalmologists’ acquisition andpart of the transition to labeling cataract surgery more integration of this technology into a surgical practice.accurately as a lens-based refractive procedure. In the longer term and with more widespread adop- WHAT IS DRIVING CONSUMERS?tion, femtosecond laser surgery should become a com- The biggest question I am asked is: will consumersmonly accepted option for cataract patients who see its actually pay for laser cataract surgery? As with the safe-value and are willing to pay for it. As with any elective ty issue, I refer again to the refractive counterpart inprocedure, those providers who most effectively edu- ophthalmology: laser vision correction. About 20 yearscate patients will succeed. This will continue to hold ago, surgeons and industry executives questionedtrue as long as doctors collect fees directly from whether anyone would pay for the privilege of havingpatients, because the doctor-patient relationship is also laser surgery. That question has been answered. Today’sone of doctor-customer. cataract surgery market is very different than it was 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Today’s cataract patients areREVERSING THE TREND TOWARD well aware that they can visit an eye surgeon and haveCOMMODITIZATION an outpatient procedure that lets them see without Over time, cataract surgery has become commodi- glasses. According to Los Angeles surgeon Samueltized, with third-party payers seeking to reduce its Masket, “Many of my patients may not want to paymonetary value while surgeons seek to preserve it. The extra for their cataract surgery, but pretty much all offemtosecond laser offers a golden opportunity to my patients expect a refractive-like outcome.”increase the value of cataract surgery for surgeons and Dr. Masket’s sentiment captures what has been missingpatients. Given the state of the health care system and from the cataract surgery equation: LASIK-like unaidedthe intense pressure created by an aging population, vision. LASIK trials indicate that 20/20 vision is routinelyno one should expect the CMS or private insurance to achieved in 95% of patients, but this benchmark is onlypay for laser cataract surgery. That is for the best, in achieved by slightly more than half of cataract surgerymy opinion. The profession would be well served if patients. The potential to raise the percentage of patientsregulations evolved in a similar fashion as the CMS rul- who do not require glasses after cataract surgery—effec-ing allowing separate fees for premium IOLs, a decision tively making standard outcomes better—is of huge MARCH 2011 CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY 85
COVER STORY interest to all stakeholders: surgeons and patients, manu- WATCH IT NOW ON THE CATARACT SURGERY facturers, venture capitalists, payers, and regulators. CHANNEL AT WWW.EYETUBE.NET LASIK-like outcomes are an emerging goal for the indus- try that has spawned ORange (WaveTec Vision, Aliso For more information on getting Viejo, CA) and the TrueVision 3D System (TrueVision started with laser cataract surgery, Systems, Inc., Santa Barbara, CA). These and innovations click eyetube.net/video/ in the IOL’s design will undoubtedly be explored to sex-lies-and-videotape-lessons- achieve the goal of a refractive cataract procedure. for-cataract-surgeons-in-2011/ The other main factor that will influence the adop- to view Shareef Mahdavi’s talk Sex, Lies, and Videotape: Lessons for tion of laser cataract surgery is the reaction of the baby Cataract Surgeons in 2011 boomer generation. It has transformed virtually every industry it has “touched” over its lifetime; cataract sur- gery will be no exception. The first boomers turned 65 in January 2011, and this large demographic will create justify reimbursement more than to document the clin- growing demand for cataract surgery, improved out- ical degradation of vision. Harvey Carter, MD, was the comes, and a more concierge-like experience. Their first surgeon I heard use the phrase dysfunctional lens expectations, which have been well defined over the syndrome with his patients. This is more than just clever; years, have several key implications for this category. it is an example of effective communication in relevant terms. Dr. Carter of Dallas continues to be one of the No. 1. Do not differentiate based on technology nation’s leading implanters of presbyopia-correcting One of the major mistakes in the commercialization IOLs. Atlanta-based surgeon Trevor Woodhams began of laser vision correction occurred when manufacturers describing cataract surgery to his patients as the end and surgeons attempted to draw distinctions based on rather than the beginning of a disease process that hap- what type of laser was being used. This approach was pens to most people; it takes place over a period of not meaningful to consumers and served to confuse years, he explains, and significantly affects vision, first and delay their decision making. Instead, the discussion with the stiffening of the lens (presbyopia) and ulti- should be based on the benefits to the patient, which mately with the clouding of the lens. Vance Thompson, are similar across all manufacturers. The built-in MD, in practice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, adds the demand described earlier is already in place; consumers notion of gradual and progressive degradation of the and patients simply need to be educated on how laser quality of vision. cataract surgery is different and what advantages it These surgeons have learned that calling what some- offers compared with traditional cataract surgery. one has a cataract makes it harder for the patient to understand his or her condition. That term may have No. 2. Do not bash current technology served well when the diagnosis and removal of a Phacoemulsification has made cataract surgery a cataract was defined by regulations and paid for by highly safe and effective procedure. It will continue to another entity. Now, and in the future, this medical mile- exist for the foreseeable future, and it is imperative to stone will be increasingly defined by lifestyle require- the new category that surgeons and staff do not ments and paid for directly by the patient—at least the degrade a procedure that has been successful for over refractive portion. Eric Donnenfeld, MD, puts it this way: 40 years. just as presbyopia becomes associated with “middle No. 3. Do not call it cataract surgery age,” the term cataract becomes associated with “old This new category should have a name that distin- age.” Today’s aging baby boomers refuse to be thought guishes it from what is currently known as cataract sur- of as senior citizens, because people now routinely live gery. The procedure should be renamed laser cataract into their 80s and 90s. In this emerging context, one’s surgery or lens-based laser surgery. A name will help the 60s can therefore hardly be thought of as old age. procedure develop its own “badge” and begin to sepa- The convergence of longer life spans and the poten- rate it from traditional cataract surgery and the trend tial to improve refractive outcomes will stimulate de- toward commoditization described earlier. mand for laser cataract surgery. No. 4. Stop using the term cataract SUMMARY The term cataract no longer accurately describes The femtosecond laser is a big deal. I do not know if it what is happening inside the eye. The word is used to will become known as “Ophthalmology 2.0” or some-86 CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY MARCH 2011
thing similar, but I do believe that it has the poten-tial to transform lens-based surgery in ways thatbuild upon the decades-long successes of the IOLand phacoemulsification. This transformation willtake time, but it will be measured in months andyears rather than decades. In the near term, theprocedure will complement rather than replacephacoemulsification, attracting the interest ofmanufacturers and surgeons alike. The pace of technological innovation is muchfaster today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Ittook more than 7 years for the first 10 million per-sonal computers, introduced in 1975, to be sold.Launched in 2010, Apple’s iPad achieved this samefeat in less than 9 months. The adoption rate forFacebook and Twitter has been huge, and Grouponhas emerged as the fastest-growing Internet com-merce site. These mainstream consumer experi-ences shape opinion and foster more rapid adop-tion across the spectrum of technological innova-tion, including what eye surgeons have to offer. Consumer trends, as well as ophthalmology’sown experience with elective procedures, stronglysuggest that surgeons should get involved. Thequestion is, when? Now is the right time to beginthinking and planning, as manufacturers arebuilding their capacity to deliver the devices.Eventually, this technology will make its way intoeveryone’s community. There are still many ques-tions, such as which laser platform is the best,how much will it cost, where will the surgery beperformed, which patients qualify, and how muchshould patients be charged? This is an emergingfield; answers will become clear in the comingmonths, and they will evolve as we learn moreabout how best to integrate this technology intothe practice. The earliest customers will pave theway, and their experiences will help all interestedsurgeons plan accordingly. ■ Shareef Mahdavi is president of SM2Strategic and advises numerous oph-thalmic companies, including Alcon,Laboratories, Inc., Bausch + Lomb, andWaveTec Vision. He has authored morethan 80 articles for Cataract & Refractive SurgeryToday and has a regular blog on customer experienceavailable at www.premiumexperiencenetwork.com.Mr. Mahdavi may be reached at (925) 425-9900;firstname.lastname@example.org. Mahdavi S.The technology trap.Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today.February 2002;2(2):48-49.2. Mahdavi S.IntraLase:coming of age.Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today.October 2005;5(10):117-120.