Archive for April 28th, 2008

Follow the drama–lasik surgery

April 28, 2008

Since this is one reputation crisis playing out in real time, let’s keep following the lasik drama.

Fact one: there is a minor furor going on. Just check google and see all the current news reports, blog postings, etc.

Fact two: the furor was caused by the FDA holding a hearing–which they now did on April 25. The “news” as I mentioned in my last blog post was there was going to be a hearing. That’s the news hook–but the stories as they were broadcast over NBC and others led one to believe that the news was that the dangers of lasik were now being brought to light. That jump is what I consider egregious.

Fact three: as a medical procedure, lasik appears to me to be incredibly safe. Numbers vary from 7 million (in the Fox Report) to over 12 million (in the NBC report) as to how many US folks have had lasik surgery–that doesn’t count worldwide numbers. The FDA says they recognize that over 95% of the patients are “satisfied” with their results and less than 1% (according to Dr. Solomon) have severe side effects that impacts their vision.

Let me be clear–if I was in that 1% I would be concerned too. But, how many plastic surgery patients are “satisfied?” By my quick review walking the sidewalks of Beverly Hills, I would say a good 50% have a right to be very unhappy. And unhappiness does not equate with poor results or severe side effects.

It is perfectly right and appropriate for the FDA to hold hearings. They would be doing a disservice if they did not. What I object to, as strenuously as I can in the blog without becoming another ticked off blogger, is how the media/regulatory environment works to the detriment of most of us and our freedom to decide. Look at the headlines coming out of the hearing: (Fox News:

Patients Harmed by Lasik Surgery Alternate Between Fury, Despair at FDA Hearing

(obvious, I did a cut and paste here)

How would a headline like this work: “Experts demonstrate that lasik eye surgery one of the safest elective surgeries available.”  Nope, wouldn’t work. Wouldn’t get eyes glued to the screen or the paper. I’m not saying there weren’t sad stories and some people aren’t ticked off and have a right to be. Bad procedures, bad doctors and bad choices exist (note the story of one “victim” who insisted on having it despite the doctor advising against it–it’s not just docs that make bad choices.)

The entirely predictable process works like this (I described it in Now Is Too Late2):

– an event happens (in this case something really mild like FDA holding hearings

– news media figure out a way to use it to gather an audience

– method used is outrage and melodrama (black hats, white hats, that whole thing)

– elected officials or regulators view the outrage as meaning they should take action

– new laws are passed or more restrictive regulations issued NOT based on scientific reality, but the fear of appearing to not care and do nothing. Where is the old logic of government action that said, “Let’s not just do something, let’s stand here.”?

– freedom of choice is curtailed, costs skyrocket so fewer and fewer people can afford the benefits, and elected officials and regulators who are the most active at taking these steps get reelected or reappointed.

And it all starts because our “news” environment is driven by a singular need to attract and hold an audience.

Do I think we have a problem here? We have a problem here.