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Archive June 2015 XVI, No. 6

The Case for Outsourcing Laser Cataracts

Not sure if ophthalmology's hottest technology is right for your facility? Take it for a test drive.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Editor-in-Chief


outsourcing laser firms SPECIAL DELIVERY Outsourcing firms bring laser platforms right to your door and handle all the logistics of set up.

Femtosecond lasers have the potential to completely transform cataract surgery, but the platforms are expensive — costing upwards of $500,000, plus annual maintenance costs — and you need to attract plenty of patients who are willing to pony up for improved refractive outcomes in order to make that significant investment worth it. There is a way to see if laser cataracts will work at your facility with essentially no financial risk and no operational headaches. Outsourcing firms bring lasers right to your door and handle all the logistics of setup. All you have to do is schedule cases and count the profits.

Afraid of commitment
Ophthalmologist Paul Koch, MD, the founder of Koch Eye Associates in Warwick, R.I., was drawn to the reported benefits of laser cataract surgery back in 2013, but wasn't willing to invest in the hype. "We didn't know for sure what role femto lasers would play in cataract surgery, and almost every comment made about it was by someone with a direct tie to one of the manufacturers," he says. "So to purchase a unit at that time was quite a financial commitment, and one we weren't willing to make."

So he partnered with an outsourcing company instead. He pays a per-eye fee in exchange for complete set up and removal of the laser in one of his facility's ORs and a tech to help operate the laser. Basically, Dr. Koch is paying for a worry-free, no-hassle day of profitable surgery. "We have a situation now where we have a strong business relationship," he says. "They provide a service and at the end of the day, we make money, they make money and everyone's happy."

Ophthalmologist Jeffrey Starkey, MD, of NEOVision Group in Akron, Ohio, knew the femto laser made accurate cuts, but balked at the initial investment and $50,000 or so in annual maintenance costs to own a platform of his own, especially when he wasn't sure how the technology would pan out in his practice and for his patients. "Taking the risk out of the decision-making process was a wonderful thing," he says.

Dr. Starkey describes himself as the typical surgeon who decided to adopt a new technology and was blown away by how many patients know about it and are seeking out facilities that have it. He presents the option the same way during every cataract evaluation in his clinic, and says the rate of converting patients from manual procedures to laser surgery is about 45%, much higher than he anticipated.

The outsourcing company charges Dr. Starkey about $850 an eye, an amount that would decrease if he performed more cases (he says he's still working to convince other surgeons in the physician-owned eye-only surgery center to convert). "If we could somehow utilize the laser 2 days in a row, we'd make the per-click price even more favorable," he says.

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