‘I was livid!’ - Unhappy Lasik
patients storm the web to spin their tales of woe
surgery is rapidly growing in popularity as a vision corrective
procedure. But it is not always successful and poor outcomes have
driven some patients to publicly vent their spleen on the web -
and in court.
A PATIENT who experienced a good outcome with refractive surgery
will most likely go back happily to work and family, enjoying the
benefits of improved vision. But for the unhappy patient, it is
another story. That patient may do two things to make sure he is
not forgotten: recount his experience in public through a web page
and/or express his concerns in private to a lawyer.
Now, with just a few clicks of the mouse anyone can establish a
rudimentary outpost on the web through which he can express his
opinion to the waiting world.
This fact has not been lost on patients or the legal profession.
Patients who create web sites often relay a wealth of information
not only on their negative experiences, but also the name (and address)
of the surgeon, and the type of microkeratome, laser and software
Patient sites offer a range of emotion. Starting on the mild end
of the spectrum,
at ‘Kirk’s Lasik history’ (http://usr.ijntb.net/genghis/Lasik/History.htm)
a 30-year-old man named Kirk provides “a history of [his]
experience with the Lasik procedure, dealing with the after-effects
and attempting to find solutions to [his] complications”.
He presents a chronological narrative including preoperative medical
history and assessment. The initial surgery undercorrected the astigmatism,
with significant associated glare and night vision problems.
An enhancement procedure produced irregular astigmatism and other
problems. The narrative continues, describing his frustration and
confusion and concluding: “I also hope that this [web page]
will effect change in the way Lasik cases are managed and prompt
corrective procedures to be developed for the complications created
for many by this surgery.”
The emotion is more pronounced at another site www.lasikcourt.com.
An unhappy patient from Texas provides a detailed chronology of
his unhappy experience with Lasik, including a decentred ablation
and a less than happy interaction with a nationwide laser centre.
Along the same lines, at www.lasiksos.com
another unhappy patient tells his story. The California man developed
diplopia, dry eye and corneal pain following Lasik. The man has
become something of a celebrity in his local area. He is famous
for standing in front of the refractive surgery centre which performed
his procedure with sign that reads: “Lasik impaired my vision.”
The emotions get more raw at www.lasiksucks4U.com
where a patient recounts his experience with the procedure including
poor visual outcome and poor night vision. The patient focuses on
psychological aspects of being an unhappy patient, including depression
and post-traumatic stress disorder. He reports: “The surgeon
who runs the laser centre told me ‘Deal with it … people
lose their sight every day. I'll see you in eight months.’
I was livid!!!”
Another website, www.lasikdisaster.com
(subtitled ‘20/20 to 20/Hell’) raises the temperature
even further. The site goes beyond an individual’s case report
to a strident critique of refractive surgery. This patient expresses
her rage in a sizable website. Beyond her own unhappy experience,
she expresses her opinion on the marketing of refractive surgery.
“I am gravely disturbed by the attitudes which are commonplace
in this area of medicine, in which patients are SOLD a serious and
possibly vision-robbing procedure as though it's a haircut,”
Her site also include lengthy sections on related Lasik topics including
‘complications’, ‘more complications’, ‘Lasik
lies’, and ‘fatal focus’. In a sign that things
are reaching a level of hysteria, she remains anonymous, citing
previous death threats and fear for her family.
The next level of response can be seen at www.surgicaleyes.org.
This site goes beyond an individual case, offering a portal for
unhappy refractive surgery patients, “an organisation founded
by people with longer-term complications from refractive surgery
to assist others who have had unsuccessful Lasik, PRK, RK, AK, ALK
or other elective refractive surgeries”.
The site is unusual in that it contains a medical advisory board,
which while weighted to optometry, does include the names of several
well-known ophthalmic surgeons.
That site claims 60,000 visitors per month and includes sections
on patient stories, types of complications, and prevention advocacy.
There is also a ‘legal redress’ section offering links
to medical malpractice attorneys, medical boards and prosecuting
It also includes a lively online discussion forum with includes
more than 50,000 posts. You can discuss your own experiences of
many areas including ‘living with complications’, ‘ectasia
support group’ and ‘new tech updates’. Patients
can even upload corneal topographies for discussion by volunteer
There are other online forums where patients discuss their experiences.
These include Google SciMedVision (http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&group=sci.med.vision)
and the Alt- Lasik-eyes newsgroup.
Some patients go beyond the court of public opinion, seeking legal
redress for their unhappy refractive results. Perhaps not surprisingly,
the next step had to be websites detailing legal remedies and class
Attorneys in the United States are actively pursuing the Lasik patient
business by online means. For example, a New York firm (www.newyork-injurylawyers.com)
provides an online form for referral to ‘a specialist in eye
At another site (www.tlcmalpractivce.org)
a Florida businessman goes up against a large US Lasik practice
group. He reports a poor outcome, and apparently had keratoconus
prior to surgery. He also alleges depression and anxiety, and includes
affidavits to back it up. He offers to help readers ‘find
an attorney to file a Lasik medical malpractice suit’.
In another sign that the legal wave is building, the website www.medifocuslegal.com
offers specific research services to attorneys contemplating a Lasik
The site, for a fee, offers to “quickly identify leading medical
experts nationwide for case reviews and expert testimony”
and to “jump-start your medical experts to ensure that they
are well-versed with the published medical literature before depositions
That site also offers related resources for lawyers interested in
suing an ophthalmologist, including sections on complications of
phaco, complications of cataract surgery and a section on the diagnosis
and management of endophthalmitis. Fortunately, the complication
rates for refractive surgery remain low, with new wavefront approaches
promising to lower them even more. It may be that lessons learned
from these unhappy patients can also help reduce future complications.
The sites created by these patients are instructive on several levels.
Close reading reveals that in many cases the patient may not have
been an ideal candidate for refractive surgery to begin with, stressing
the need for appropriate preoperative screening.
In other cases, patients report high degrees of disbelief, surprise,
confusion, and dismissiveness in the responses of their surgeons
to their problems.
To paraphrase the English playwright William Congreve, hell hath
no fury like the patient scorned. This highlights the importance
of clear communication and a good bedside manner.
It also emphasises the importance of the need for thorough preoperative
counselling to create realistic expectations along with comprehensive
informed consent procedures to help educate the patient prior to
Comments or suggestions for this column? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org