Laser Eye Surgery Across CulturesAuthor: Dr. William Tullo
July 12, 2013
Laser eye surgery has a home in North America, but its origins, like those of many Americans, have roots across the sea. The global surgical community has long been on the frontier of laser eye surgery. Spaniard José Barraquer developed the microkeratome, a blade used in certain LASIK procedures, in the 1940s and 1950s. Russian eye doctor Svyatoslav Fyodorov pioneered a non-laser procedure, radial keratotomy (RK), in the 1970s, a decade before it came to North America.
In 1988, two Russian eye doctors used a home-made laser to cut a flap in a cornea and reshape the tissue. Two years after the Russians’ endeavor, Greek eye doctor Ioannis Pallikaris performed the first official laser eye surgery, based off a refinement of PRK, while using a variation of Barraquer’s microkeratome blade.
Laser eye surgery earns approval
LASIK was eventually approved in the United States in 1999. Another laser eye surgery, PRK, had been approved a few years earlier. In Germany, within two years of the 2002 invention of Bladeless LASIK, 95 percent of surgeons responsible for 80 percent of the country’s laser eye surgeries had installed Bladeless LASIK technology. Today Europe continues innovating in laser eye surgery.
Countries once slow to warm to laser eye surgery are catching up. Asian and European laser eye surgeons are increasingly adopting new technologies. You can often look to North America and Europe to see what South Korean surgeons will be using in several years. Wavefront analysis, for instance, which customizes laser eye surgery to each patient, is gaining traction in South Korea after Western eye doctors lauded the benefits of Custom LASIK.
In Japan, laser eye surgeons perform 80,000 laser eye surgeries a year, a number steadily increasing. Surgeons in England, Italy and Germany report rising interest in surgery, too.
Nearby in Sweden, eye doctors who had remained skeptical of LASIK throughout the 1990s have now embraced it. Their initial concerns, which were that LASIK was harder to perform and less safe than its predecessor, PRK, have lifted since laser technology and success rates improved dramatically in the 21st century. Today PRK and LASIK are commonly performed in Europe.
Laser eye surgery, looking forward
As for North America, Canadian laser eye surgeons usually have access to new technology a bit faster than those in the United States, mainly due to differences in how each government handles the approval of medical devices. Canadian eye surgeons, for example, started performing PRK and LASIK a few years before their counterparts in the United States.
Today, the global economy is improving, and more young adults who have grown up alongside advancements in laser eye surgery are able to afford their own LASIK surgeries. They join a global community of more than 95 percent of patients who report satisfaction after laser eye surgery, making them part of a cross-cultural patient society.