November 18, 2003

Pennsylvania Department of Health Investigates "Drive-By" Lasik Surgeries

Groups Worried About Lasik Trucks

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Anita Srikameswaran

Two medical organizations say the Pennsylvania Department of Health should be keeping an eye on surgical suites in trucks that provide laser vision correction in parking lots and other off-street locations.

Current regulations for surgical centers need to be updated to account for mobile facilities, said Dr. Michael J. Azar, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology.

"When the regulations were written, the state had no way of knowing that someday laser eye surgery could be performed out of the back of a truck," he said. "As a result, these units roam freely in Pennsylvania without any oversight by the state Health Department."

The mobile units are not illegal, but the academy and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have alerted the state Department of Health about their concerns.

Spokesman Richard McGarvey said the department would examine the issue.

He said the traveling units don't meet the criteria for ambulatory surgical facilities, which are regulated by the state, because the laser procedures don't take more than four hours to perform. Also, patients aren't put to sleep with general anesthesia, so post-procedure recovery times are short.

McGarvey said that the state does provide some oversight because the vision correction procedures can be performed only by a licensed physician.

"If something happens or goes wrong with that particular operation, the doctor's license still holds him or her accountable," he explained. "Keep in mind we don't go into any [permanent] doctors' offices [either]."

Although the current regulations don't apply, Lasik Vision Institute would welcome state inspectors to have a look at its trucks, said Matthew Zifrony, the company's spokesman and general counsel. And if new requirements are put into place, the company would comply with them, as it does in other states.

"We don't believe there are any problems whatsoever," Zifrony said. "Having said that, if someone can point something out that we could be doing a little differently to benefit the patients, of course we would do it."

He added that the Florida-based company has been in touch with Pennsylvania state officials.

The company hasn't yet sent the mobile units to locations near Pittsburgh, but has gone to Harrisburg. A permanent LVI clinic is in the North Hills.

According to Zifrony, surgery candidates get pre-operative testing through local optometrists at least a week before the procedure is performed in the mobile unit. The surgeon reviews the results to determine whether the patient can have it done. Post-operative testing is also conducted by an optometrist and reviewed by the surgeon.

"There is always someone for the patient to turn to," Zifrony said. "The surgeon is always a phone call away."

He said the mobile lasers minimize expenses and that the savings are passed on to patients. The low cost of the procedures lead the company's competitors, not the state, to complain when the trucks roll into town.

"It's the competitors that don't like this," Zifrony said. "They immediately look for reasons why we shouldn't be there."

Posted by Admin at November 18, 2003 06:04 PM