How Safe is LASIK? The Tiger Woods of Medical Procedures?

February 1, 2010

In a recent article, New York Times reporter Abby Ellin writes that Army doctor Erik J. Rupard, refers to LASIK as “the Tiger Woods of medical procedures: deeply and demonstrably flawed, but so many people love it that the few of us who speak ill of it are dismissed as cranks and/or loonies.”  Dr. Rupard’s assessment is based on the volume of dry eye complaints he witnessed in soldiers serving in Iraq.

More alarming still, is the admission of Morris Waxler, who as former branch chief of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health Office of Service and Technology, was responsible for the FDA’s approval of the first lasers in 1998.  Mr. Waxler says: “We screwed up…We should have looked at the worst-case impact on patients, rather than just the very good outcomes we saw in the clinical trials.”

Abby Ellin, who previously wrote of her own poignant LASIK regrets, reports that the LASIK industry disagrees with Dr. Rupard, and maintains that LASIK is among the safest elective procedures ever devised.  Millions of satisfied patients may agree.  And, some soldiers may claim that LASIK literally saved their lives, notwithstanding their dry eyes.

Still, for most of us civilians, the decision to have LASIK surgery is rarely a matter of life or death.  Hopefully, the recently announced FDA and Department of Defense proposed joint study will give LASIK consumers reliable information about LASIK complications and quality of life issues so that they can make an informed decision whether to have this surgery.