New rules for eye-laser surgery due hard-sell tactics

At least 21 cases taken by aggrieved individuals against eye-laser clinics since 2008

With complications arising in a minority of laser-eye surgery cases, the amount of litigation is increasing. Photograph: The Irish Times

With complications arising in a minority of laser-eye surgery cases, the amount of litigation is increasing. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

New guidelines have been drawn up for eye laser surgery amid growing concern over the use of hard-sell tactics in persuading consumers to undergo the procedure.

The guidelines from the Irish College of Ophthalmologists are voluntary, but the college says members who do not adhere to them will be refused membership.

Thousands of eye laser operations are carried out every year, the vast majority successfully. However, with complications arising in a minority of cases, the amount of litigation is increasing. At least 21 cases have been taken by individual consumers against a number of high street eye laser clinics since 2008.

Ophthalmologist and eye surgeon members of the college are increasingly concerned about the tactics used by some operators to market the procedures to customers and about the levels of pre- and aftercare provided.

Not trivial

Billy Power

“I’m amazed at the number of patients who say they never met their eye surgeon before the day of their laser operation. You wouldn’t do that with an ingrown toenail, and you certainly shouldn’t with an operation on your eye.”

Mr Power is also concerned about the financial pressure some customers are coming under. “Informed consent should be given at least 24 hours before surgery, not on the day. A patient is unlikely to pull out at the last moment, when they’ve taken a day off work and paid a deposit.”

A third area of concern for the college is aftercare, as patients often need to see a qualified person in the days following their surgery. “I’ve heard of patients in Dublin being referred to someone on the phone from Scotland. It’s crazy that support wouldn’t come from someone based locally.”

The guidelines say communications with customers must not convey false information or omit material information, and must not “create unjustified expectations of results”: “Information on procedures must not trivialise the seriousness of surgery or minimise the potential risks.”

Surgeons must be registered with the Medical Council and have indemnity cover, and must be available for out-patient services and emergencies.

The information document about the surgery must be given to the patient at least 24 hours before the procedure is undertaken, to allow the patient discuss the risks and benefits involved.

Post-operative claims

Eye laser surgery has been available for over 20 years and aims to perfect eyesight using a computer-controlled laser which reshapes the cornea to improve vision.