When refractive surgery has penetrated only 5% of the available market, the refractive surgeons down the street who provide good quality refractive surgery are not your competition. They are your social proof. Allow me to explain.
Refractive surgery will inevitably become the default treatment for appropriate refractive errors in the 21-to-40-year age group. The benefits to the individual include safety, convenience, cost, occupational fitness, appearance, and lifestyle. Major benefits also accrue to society, in both economics and workforce readiness. Reliance on glasses and contacts puts people, particularly young adults, at a significant financial and lifestyle disadvantage.
Although the many benefits of refractive surgery may be obvious to us, they are less so to the public. Refractive surgery has yet to reach the point at which the public accepts that eliminating refractive errors is normal. To reach that point, it will be necessary to flood communities with happy patients who have had refractive surgery and who as a result become ambassadors for our services. This will require a far greater participation rate than we have achieved to date. To reach this point, we must have several high-quality and active refractive surgeons in every market.
Blame for the slow growth of refractive surgery cannot be attributed to the public, nor are the spectacle and contact lens industries responsible. True, fear of surgery may be common, and the other industries do not want to see refractive surgery displace their markets. Nonetheless, the blame for the slow uptake of refractive surgery lies squarely with the misguided competitive marketing that characterizes our field. Refractive surgery marketing must pivot away from surgeons and technology and refocus on patient benefits if the field is to grow.
I believe that the primary market for refractive surgery in the next 10 years will be those in the millennial generation. This generation of tech-savvy and knowledge-rich consumers assumes that technology will work and that surgeons are competent. They are not impressed by advertising or comparative claims of excellence. Millennials do, however, respond to economics and opportunities for better living, both of which refractive surgery delivers.
Moreover, millennials rely on crowdsourcing and on each other for validation. For us to succeed, we must have more millennials having surgery so that they can provide the social proof needed to drive more patients to our doors.
So the next time a patient asks, “What do you think of the LASIK surgeons down the street?” our only answer should be, “They are great.” Put aside your reservations that the other surgeons may use a different technology or be not quite as good as you are. Do not make it about you, make it about the patient. If we all do that for each other, public confidence will grow, and so will our field.
Guy M. Kezirian, MD, MBA, FACS
• President, SurgiVision Consultants
• Financial disclosure: Owner (SurgiVision Consultants)