The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to reassess their lifestyles and health, including eye health, resulting in an increased interest in laser vision correction procedures such as LASIK and SMILE, according to the Refractive Surgery Council (RSC).
RSC reports an uptick in procedures—16.3 percent year-over-year—in the last quarter of 2020, despite the challenges eye surgeons and practices faced in 2020, including pandemic-related quarantines and shutdowns.
“It’s clear people are ready to take back control of their lives and make decisions with self-care at the top of their priorities. Frustration with masks and increased screen time are the main factors behind the surge,” RSC Chairman Jim Wachtman, said in a company news release. “Our data indicates pandemic fatigue is gradually being replaced with optimism now that we have rapid testing and vaccines to help in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. It’s a perfect time—especially for those working from home and saving money—to have laser vision correction surgery.”
Factors fueling demand for LASIK, in addition to mask-wearing and fogging glasses, include the rising need to work from home. People have been staring at their faces during Zoom calls for months now and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the way they look in eyeglasses; or they constantly fiddle with their contacts as their eyes dry out from long hours in front of screens. The demands placed on eyes and vision during the pandemic have vision correction patients seeking out alternatives that better suit their needs now and in the future.
“At Vance Thompson Vision, we have seen roughly a 30 percent increase in laser eye surgery during the pandemic,” Vance Thompson, MD, member of the RSC editorial advisory board and director of refractive surgery for Vance Thompson Vision in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said in an RSC news release. “We think it’s because the pandemic made people really look at what they value in life – such as family, friends, and choices they have thought about – and realized that it’s time to do some of those things they have dreamt of doing in life. Yes, we have seen occupational and mask-related reasons, but for the most part, we feel the increase is because the pandemic made people appreciate life and their desires more.”
Since the start of the pandemic, practices across the country have introduced health and safety measures to protect their patients and staff. These measures often include holding consultations and pre-surgery screenings virtually to reduce in-person appointments; limiting the number of surgeries and scheduling them further apart; calling patients before surgery to screen them for symptoms of the virus; taking a patient’s temperature upon arrival at the surgery; maintaining social distancing; sanitizing surfaces and equipment between patients; having staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE); requiring patients to wear masks, and placing hand sanitizers throughout the practice.
“The health and safety of our patients and staff is our primary concern,” said Robert Maloney, MD, of the Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, California. “We have extensive infection prevention protocols throughout the patient experience in our facility. Doctors and staff are now vaccinated and everyone is wearing high-quality masks. Elective surgery is very safe, safer than a grocery store or a restaurant.”
Another potential benefit of laser vision correction is a reduced risk of virus transmission. When people wear glasses or contacts, they touch their face more often with their hands and there is the potential for the virus to enter through their eyes.