Michael D. Wheeler, News Editor
Ask eye surgeons about the future of laser vision correction, and they'll tell you that the number of procedures performed each year is growing at a meteoric rate. Laser eye centers are popping up in metropolitan areas around the globe to serve more than a million patients each year. More surgeons, squeezed by the pressures of managed care, have begun performing laser surgeries as another way of increasing profit margins.
At the center of the trend are two procedures: photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) and its younger cousin, laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK). Both types of surgery use an excimer laser to remove corneal tissue to improve visual acuity. The popularity of these procedures generated $30 million in laser sales, or 47 percent of the overall refractive surgery device market, in 1998, according to estimates from Frost & Sullivan in Mountain View, Calif. That share is projected to increase to 54 percent, as the number of procedures is set to eclipse the number of cataract surgeries performed in the US this year.