He was hooked the first time he played with a femtosecond laser. "I have to admit: It was very, very cool. Awfully impressive," says ophthalmologist Larry E. Patterson, MD, the medical director for Eye Centers of Tennessee. Cold, hard economics quickly tempered his enthusiasm. "How could we possibly afford it?" he remembers thinking. "It looks interesting, but it seems terribly expensive and a lot of trouble. And is there any evidence that it's worth it for patients?"
No matter how hard he crunched the numbers, no matter how many patients he thought he could convert to laser-assisted refractive surgery with the promise of blade-free precision, there was no way he could afford to buy a $500,000 laser and have the volume necessary to make a profit. "It wouldn't work unless I had massive volume at least 100 surgeries a month," he says. "I didn't think it would be a wise investment to buy one."
But Dr. Patterson, a leader in the field of cataract and refractive surgery, didn't give in. He did the next best thing to buying a femtosecond laser. He went the increasingly popular outsourcing route, leasing a femtosecond laser and all the people and supplies that come with it from a mobile cataract services company. A year ago this month Dr. Patterson performed the first mobile femto cataract case in the nation.
And now, a year later, without pushing it on patients but by simply letting them know that femto is an out-of-pocket option for them, Dr. Patterson says he's converting about 25% of his cataract caseload to the laser treatment. "There's something about the accuracy of the procedure," he says. "The laser appeals to people." Dr. Patterson's monthly laser case volume has generally hovered in the 20s, with a low of 17 and a high of 34.