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Archive January 2015 XVI, No. 1

Can You Afford a Femto Laser?

Buy, lease or outsource? Here's a quick economics lesson.

Stephen Sheppard, C.P.A., C.O.E.


Femtosecond laser machine EYE ON THE FUTURE Femtosecond laser machines are catching on fast, and manufacturers are coming up with creative financing options.

As a natural-born skeptic, I figured it would take a long time for femtosecond lasers to make a significant dent in the cataract market. I never imagined that in a few short years, hundreds of practices would be using them. Clearly, the market is embracing the potentially profitable technology and more and more providers are trying to decide whether they can — or should — find a way to incorporate the $350,000-to-$425,000 equipment into their practices.

For manufacturers and outsourcers, femtosecond lasers obviously represent a huge opportunity. They're fighting tenaciously for market share. Not only can you buy, lease or rent a mobile laser (have a machine delivered to your practice for a pre-designated number of days each month), but within those primary categories there are scores of subcategories. As one industry consultant insists: "Nothing's definitive. The options are basically endless."

That may be true, but if you're thinking about going the femto route and wondering how best to do it, several questions can help point you in the right direction.

1. Have you made, or are you prepared to make, the foray into "retail medicine"?
If you're already offering premium procedures — presbyopia-correcting and toric lenses, for example — you've undoubtedly developed the needed processes, and identified employees who have the ability to communicate options to patients. The ability to explain features, benefits and costs is crucial when you're dealing with premium, non-Medicare-covered offerings.

But if you haven't, it may not be as easy as it sounds. I was once the administrator of a fairly traditional and very successful ophthalmic practice. When I gave our 24 employees the short form Myers-Briggs personality test, it turned out only 2 of us were extroverts — the optician and I. Had I wanted to get into retail medicine, my technicians would have been very uncomfortable in sales roles. And the last thing you want is to have the doctor in that role.

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