What’s Wrong With the LASIK Market?

What’s wrong with the LASIK Market? In a word, nothing. In fact, according to MarketScope, the LASIK market grew 7.2% in 2018.

Perhaps a better question is, “Why doesn’t the LASIK Market grow faster?” Or, why doesn’t every cataract surgeon do LASIK? Follow that with, “Why has a safe, time-tested, affordable, and life enhancing medical procedure only penetrated ~8% of the market since its introduction in 1998?”

This article might make you mad

It doesn’t make sense? Read on to learn the history of the LASIK market, why it fell so fast and never recovered, and why it remains a great opportunity for patients and ophthalmologists.

If what I write makes you mad, that’s unfortunate. I’ve just seen too many exceptions to the rule of “My area is different.” Or maybe I’m getting to the age where I’m willing to say what’s on my mind. In either case, if you disagree with what I write, please comment and tell me why!

History of the LASIK Market

Unless you live under a rock, you know what LASIK does – it makes it so you reduce your dependence on wearing your pesky eyeglasses. What you may not know is how LASIK got to what it is today. Wikipedia has a good technical history of refractive surgery if that floats your boat.

In case you’re new to this site, and have no idea about my background, here it is: In 1991 I began working as a sales representative for Storz Instrument Company. (Don’t worry, I won’t give you work history here, but I’m still in the ophthalmology business so I lived through all of what I am writing about. If you want to credential me, either my LinkedIn page or About section of this website will work.) In 1991, Radial Keratotomy was beginning to have widespread acceptance and doctors began to accept the idea that it was okay to “cut on a healthy cornea.” 

It was an exciting time to be in the business and I learned a lot from seeing the technology evolve, surgeon skills grow, and the market go from virtually zero to 1,400,000 procedures performed in 2007.  And it was humbling and educational to work for the largest ophthalmic surgical instrument company (Storz) and see us get trounced by biotechnology company (Chiron) that had a system comprised of average quality instruments.

From this, I learned that systems and processes sell because they provide a roadmap for reaching an endpoint. And doctor’s and their staff’s like processes and how-to advice.

The chart from Statista below shows the rise, and fall, of the market. There were some heady times along the way, but booms are way more fun than busts!

Why didn’t the LASIK market come back?

Nearly 40% of the world’s population is myopic. And according to recent data, that number is increasing due to screen usage and genetic factors.

So, why did the market for LASIK drop so quickly in 2007 and 2008 and never recover? There are many theories: All the LASIK was done on the people who wanted it, Millennials won’t pay for it, contact lens technology is better, people like how they look in glasses…

All of those, except the first one, seem reasonable to me and are true to a degree. But the fact remains that there are more and more people coming into the prime LASIK age (~21-35) and the market is about 8% penetrated. 

The Diffusion of Innovation applies 

The Diffusion of Innovation curve first taught by Everett Graham teaches that at 8%, we’re still in the Early Adopter phase. This means there’s lots of runway left for growth.

I think most people don’t have LASIK because of fear. Fear of the procedure and the fear of cost. And unfortunately, doctors as marketers struggle to overcome these barriers. Luckily, there are lots of ways to connect with patients and engaging with them has never been easier.

Are the surgeons too busy or (ahem) focused on other duties? Perhaps “satisfied” is another way to think about it? I don’t intend this as a knock and can’t blame anyone if this is true. Ophthalmologists generally have a great lifestyle, are well compensated for their skills, and many aren’t looking to do more work. And LASIK requires work.

The simple fact is that many of the successful LASIK only surgeons who fueled the growth early, found their skills in consumer marketing of a surgical procedure and focusing on creating a world-class patient experience made them terrific refractive cataract surgeons. In 2004, when patient shared billing was approved by CMS, the game changed.

So now they’ve diversified their practice revenue stream and are happy doing some LASIK and lots of upgraded cataract surgery. Will the new generation of ophthalmologist coming into the market be required to offer a full complement of LASIK and refractive cataract surgery options to be successful? Yes, I believe they will.

With all of my heart, I believe that every ophthalmology practice in the US holds the seeds of a successful LASIK practice. I am biased because of my role with Sightpath Medical, but that doesn’t make me wrong. This is true because there are options for practices of any size to be in the LASIK business if they wish to explore their options.

5 ways to resuscitate the LASIK market in your practice

One

Build a commercial process in your practice. What I mean by that, is do real marketing. Marketing is more than advertising. Marketing is taking a person from a current state to a desired state – and there are lots of stages and channels involved. When you, and your team, understand your process, when something’s not working, you know where to focus your improvement efforts. And if something is working, do it more.

Two

Stop talking about the price and focus on the life-changing opportunity offered by LASIK. I know this is true because my wife and one of my daughters both had LASIK. They love it and it was truly life changing – why discount this? After all, if you think hard about it, no one buys on price. Not really, anyway.

Three

Show pictures in your collateral and advertising using happy people doing lifestyle activities not wearing glasses. This allows a person to imagine the after stage of LASIK and helps them get past the fear. The pictures I see so often of lasers on an eye and doctors sidled up to microscopes wearing scrub caps are perpetuating the fear of the procedure. Please, just stop.

Four

Find your tribe. Is there a segment of the market you can address where you have a special connection and are unique? Doing this helps you to compete to be unique instead of, “the best.” This is a good strategy because competing to “be the best” is a race to the bottom. If you don’t believe me, read Michael Porter’s, “Competitive Strategy.

Five

Stoke the flame of excitement about LASIK for you and your staff to build referrals from past patients. This is a complicated problem to solve unless you start with mindset. Teach yourself and your staff to remember that every new patient who asks about LASIK and has LASIK is excited!

It’s easy to forget that the person on the phone, or in the exam chair, is excited about considering LASIK. Try staying in touch with past patients to keep the flame lit on their excitement and ask them to talk about how their life was improved by LASIK – Doing this creates a powerful machine. And boosts your enthusiasm, too!

I’m stopping at five ideas, but there are many more where those came from. For many years, I have sought the answer to my nagging question, “How will we make marketing easy for doctors?” I’ll keep asking questions, building systems, and looking for ways to help.

What next?

In closing, as I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, I believe every cataract surgeon can, and dare I say “must,” be a LASIK surgeon. It may be easier than you think to stop referring out those valuable patients!

If you want help getting started, or kick starting your LASIK volume, we’re here to help at Sightpath. Fill out the form and we’ll be in touch about access to technology and staff with Sightpath Medical or schedule a call about ideas for marketing with our in-house, ophthalmology only agency, Sightpath Creative.

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