Josh Hunter Updated 03/12/20 3:31 PM
Why does it cost so much if it takes so little time?
I want you to have a clear answer to this question from inside the world of refractive surgery. You deserve to know where your money goes. So, I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you everything you wanted to know about the price of LASIK. (Read Time: 6 min.)
In the United States, the average car costs $30,000 and lasts 6.5 years. A few times per day, we prove we value getting from place to place without a horse. We value it enough to spend $300-$500 per month for 72 months, only to do it all over again. Either we hate the idea of saddle burn, or the convenience of an air-conditioned ride to and from work makes us spend a lot of money on a depreciating hunk of metal.
Your eyes allow you to experience the world every moment they’re open. Not surprisingly, we find most people value their eyesight. Patients coming in for a LASIK consult say things like, “my contacts are not fun at the beach” and “I need my eyes for my job.” (Yes, that’s a real quote we hear week to week.)
I suggest a few things in life are not worth “going cheap.” I have a “Do not try to save money on these items” list, and it includes eye surgery and parachutes. I’m going to show you why at least the first item should make your list. If you’d like to gamble on a parachute, then the rest of this story may not be as helpful to you.
I’ll demystify the price of LASIK procedure for you. But when I finish, you may try to pay your surgeon more, so continue reading at your own risk.
Your surgery started many years ago on that surgeon’s first day of Medical School. The years of extra education he or she pushed through, for the chance to help you this week, piles up over $100,000 in debt. The equipment to make sure you get the best result possible costs a gnat’s hair shy of a million dollars. Before hiring clinic and patient care staff to grace the halls, your surgeon’s new practice bank account is negative $1,000,000 and counting… backward.
The lasers used to reshape your cornea can alter tissue measured in microns at speeds measured in femtoseconds. For reference, the average human hair is about 100 microns thick.
The miraculous excimer laser used to correct your vision is precise enough to write on a human hair and the “femto” laser preparing your cornea for treatment is emitting pulses of light measured in femtoseconds, aka one-millionth of one-billionth of a second. It allows the accuracy of laser placement to be +/- 0.3 microns. To get a sense for how “micro” a micron is, check this out. Mind-blowing, right?
Vision-correcting lasers aren’t cheap. The contracts to buy them work similar to your cell phone agreement. That new iPhone that already cost you $1000 is useless unless you pay the monthly minutes and data fee. It’s similar with refractive lasers, except there is a fee for every, single use. Each time your surgeon uses one of those modern miracles on your vision it costs around $200. So if you are doing the mental math, that’s two eyes and two lasers each or $800 per patient. (Wonder why some practices still use a blade or old technology?) The only exceptions are the old lasers that don’t have a per use (“click”) fee. There are still a few around, but there are also a few StarTAC flip phones in existence, I assume.
A perfect technological marvel built specific to laser eye surgery is no more than a giant, expensive paperweight if no one knows it can help them see well. Patient education and marketing expenses are necessary costs for your refractive surgeon. It’s expensive to communicate that LASIK can actually fix astigmatism and provide functional near and distance vision. For high-tech, high-touch, specialty refractive practices, the cost to help someone with glasses or contacts (you) find the front door is between $500 and $1,000.
After you find the front door, go through your consult, and hear the beautiful words, “You are a candidate for LASIK,” your excitement is only trumped by your internal budgetary reflex (IBR). I’m not sure if that is an actual medical term. I just coined it, but I assure you it’s as real as the yearly physical, below the kneecap “orange hammer reflex” (also a newly-minted term). The only difference is you reach to protect your wallet instead of involuntarily practice your hacky sack skills.
So, you're thinking you have an idea of the price, and you hear five thou… (IBR)…everything after that sounds like a youtube video slowed to 50% speed. You thought the number started with a two or three; I mean maybe four, but five? Some of you may even think I mean “hundred” because of the volume of discount LASIK marketing messages played over and over.
That’s fair. You don’t get LASIK every day so how would you know how much it costs when you hear “as low as two-hundred and whatever per eye” on the radio? My hope is this breakdown will help you understand why quality LASIK isn’t “cheap.” The best answer I ever heard to the opening question of this blog came from one of our surgeons. When asked why LASIK costs so much if it only takes 15 minutes, he responded, “It costs so much because it only takes 15 minutes.”
That’s it. That’s the answer. It sums it up in one sentence.
Now, with the context for these numbers, let’s look at why quality LASIK can cost over $5,000.
Approximate Costs to Perform Bilateral LASIK on One Person:
Patient Education: $400
Patient Communication (web, chat, text, email, etc.): $400
Consult Team: $150
Operational Expense: $700
Raw Facility Costs: $125
Raw Material Procedure Costs: $1,000
Laser Maintenance Fee: $50
LASIK Team Costs (not including surgeon): $200
Administrative Prep Costs: $125
Post-operative Visits (1 day, 1 wk, 1 mo.): $150
Equipment Costs (financing current technology): $450
Surgeon's Fee: $300-$500
Costs to Practice: $4,050-$4,250*
*This does not include general repairs, staff training, executive staff, administrative technology and office equipment, electronic medical records software, finance fees so patients can pay 0% interest, enhancement procedures… etc.
Your eyes are too important to try to save a few dollars. Go somewhere that charges enough for you to be comfortable throughout the process. We see far too many patients who tried to save a few dollars elsewhere end up here to see if we can fix what the other guys did. Most of our patients pay a bit over $200 per month at 0% interest for 24 months to change their whole world. I’d love to see you here, but I care way more that the place you choose is giving you all you deserve. “You get what you pay for” is still a universal principle. Please save the money on something else. Maybe you could just get a horse?
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