Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 10/31/18 11:28 AM
I realize this blog title sounds like a question that would be planted in the audience by a speaker because it is easy to answer. The truth, however, is that for most of these blogs I am writing about the topics we get asked about most often when people call or email. And that’s good because questions like this one aren’t ones I would think to answer. Briefly, the answer is yes. Absolutely your RLE surgeon should be board certified.
Another question I never expect, but we get about once a year, is whether or not I am a preacher. I imagine it’s because I have the same name as my dad, who is a preacher and also the greatest man I know. I suppose it could alternatively be because some folks are really specific on the range of gifting they’re looking for in a surgeon.
RLE treats age rather than disease
The slightly more involved answer for the original question about board certified surgeons is specific to RLE. Cataract surgery is the removal of a cloudy lens, replacing it with a clear lens. Refractive lens exchange is the removal of a mostly clear lens, replacing it with a clear lens. In both cases, it is possible to achieve glasses-free vision (for cataracts, it’s refractive cataract surgery that does that). There is a significant difference, however, between replacing a lens in an eye that’s able to see well with glasses and an eye that can’t see well with glasses.
If a person has an arthritic knee joint and each step they take is painful, a knee replacement can reliably fix that problem. But it’s much more common for someone’s only knee problem to be that it’s 55-years-old instead of 25-years-old. It means they’re not as flexible as they were, can’t run as fast or far as they could, and their knee can feel tired or sore easier. There’s not a reliable way to fix that problem. There is no elective knee replacement to help your legs do what they could when you were younger.
For almost every part of the body, that is true. A diseased or dysfunctional body part can be fixed; a body part whose only malady is age cannot. But this isn’t the case for the lens inside your eye. For a few reasons specific to the eye, aging lenses can be replaced with new lenses capable of allowing glasses-free near and distance vision. However, the exceptionally high standard for performing surgery to fix a problem of normal aging still exists. It’s a hurdle too high to jump for the rest of your body—treating a condition of age rather than disease—and even though it’s possible with the lens, it’s still a high hurdle to clear.
Specialists are necessary
All of this is a roundabout way to say specialists are necessary for the high hurdles in medicine. Not every ophthalmologist specializes in cataract surgery, and not every cataract surgeon specializes in refractive lens exchange. Since board certification is a relatively straightforward way to ensure you’re at the right ophthalmologist, it follows that board certification matters even more in something as sub-specialized as refractive lens exchange.
Once you’ve got that covered, you can move on to specifics like experience and word-of-mouth recommendations. You should be able to feel confident you’re talking to a surgeon who is not just board certified in ophthalmology generally, but specialized in this procedure specifically. For instance, I’m board certified, yes, but if I recommended you let me treat your glaucoma or fix a retinal detachment, you should climb out the nearest fire escape. Qualifications matter, and board certification is the starting line for all of them.