LAS VEGAS, February 27, 2002
Can you see clearly without glasses or
contact lenses? Many people can't. In fact, more
than a million people turn to lasik surgery each
year to correct their vision. One of the largest
national chains of laser eye surgery centers has
a booming business here in Las Vegas, but News 3
investigator Darcy Spears found that this
discount center may be pulling the wool over
your eyes as they put sight up for sale.
Can you put a price on perfect vision? One
lasik center puts a very low price on their
surgeries, and as the saying goes, you get what
you pay for. Our hidden camera investigation
exposes what some call a “money over medicine”
philosophy that's leaving patients and former
employees seeing red.
"She basically talked me into it, because it
sounded good. Don't have to wear glasses to read
or drive," says Gail Kennedy, consumer.
Gail Kennedy looked to the Lasik and Laser
Vision Institute as freedom from her prison of
poor sight. Gail had known people who had
successful surgeries there. The problem is, she
"It's been 11 months since my surgery and my
eyes have hurt me every day, every night," says
Gail says she still needs reading
glasses and can't really see any
"It’s almost like the nerve endings
have been damaged and they're severely
Dr. Jon Siems was the staff
surgeon at LVI in Las Vegas for almost two
years. He and at least five other staff members
recently left because of what they call the
money over medicine mentality.
"Salespeople had to meet certain quotas to
maintain their jobs or else they'd get released.
Optometrists had to see a certain number of
patients every day, physicians were supposed to
perform a certain number of surgeries a day,"
says Dr. Siems.
Internal records obtained by the News 3
investigators show LVI staff can get commissions
depending on how many patients they sign up each
week. LVI optometrist Dr. Lesa Davis
acknowledges the pressure.
"The counselors are the ones under pressure
to see as many patients as they can, or have me
see as many patients as I can," Dr. Lesa
"It presents an issue of conflict of
interest, doesn't it? If someone's reimbursement
is based upon whether or not you decide to have
the surgery or not, there's a potential risk
that the counseling role might be tainted by
that incentive," Dr. Wayne Bizer of the American
Academy of Ophthalmologists.
We sent a producer with a hidden camera for
the advertised free consultation. Here's what a
salesperson, called a patient counselor, told
her. Keep in mind, this person has no medical
"For this consultation, what did this tell
me? That I'm a candidate?" Asked our
"You're basically a good candidate for the
surgery. Obviously I can't determine it without
seeing exam results, but based on your
prescription and your age alone, yes, you're a
very good candidate for the surgery. If you were
not a good candidate for the surgery, I wouldn't
let you go on," said the consultant.
But just to see a physician, patients first
have to put down a non-refundable $100 deposit,
based on advice from a salesperson.
"The company's policy is that the only one
that can make the decision as to whether or not
somebody's a candidate is the physician," says
No one from laser vision
institute's corporate offices would go on
camera. Their lawyer says the Las Vegas LVI
staff was not following procedure.
"If the company's policies are not being
followed and we have reason to believe that,
then we will take the appropriate action to see
that they are followed," says Zifroni.
That's too little, too late for some.
"I think there's a lot of other people out
there like me and I’ve wanted for a very long
time for something like this to happen, because
I think it needs to be heard," says Gail.
Gail Kennedy isn't the only Las Vegas LVI
patient who's had problems. You'll meet more in
the continuing coverage of this story. LVI's
attorney asked us to point out that there are
plenty of happy laser vision institute patients.
During the last half of 2001, LVI performed
procedures on about 1,000 patients.
Eighty-one of those, or approximately 8
percent, filled out a patient satisfaction
survey and almost all of them thought their
treatment was good or excellent.
Local experts and ophthalmology surgeons we
spoke to say that the industry standard is for
patients to get a free eye exam from a doctor to
determine candidacy before they start spending
money on the lasik process.
Related links/info for Wednesday’s
investigation, "Blind Faith"
- Laser vision institute's website: http://www.laservisioninstitute.com/
- Eye surgery watchdog group website: http://www.surgicaleyes.org/
- Agency that oversees eyeglass world is
Nevada State Board of Dispensing Opticians at http://www.nvbdo.state.nv.us/
- Nevada state law governing optometry: http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/nrs-636.html
- Nevada revised statutes: chapter 636
abstract: chapter 636 - optometry. NRS 636.010
legislative declaration. The practice of
optometry is hereby declared to be a learned
profession, affecting public safety and welfare
and charged with the public interest, and
therefore subject to protection and regulation
by the state. [1:208:1955]nrs 636.015
definitions. As used in this chapter, unless the
context otherwise requires, the words and terms
defined innrs 636.016. To. 636.024. http://www.leg.state.nv.us/nrs/nrs-636.html
(section regarding co-management with
ophthalmologists is 636.374)
Laser Vision Institute Attorney Matthew
Zifrony performed a statistical analysis of 81
patient satisfaction surveys which LVI had
received in connection with Its Las Vegas
location. Most of these surveys were received by
LVI during the last half of the 2001 calendar
year during a time period when LVI performed
procedures on approximately 1,000 patients (i.e.
Approximately 8% of LVI's patients during this
time period appear to have responded to the
survey.) Each survey contained up to 20 items in
which the patient was asked to rank LVI from 1
to 4, with 1 denoting poor, 2 denoting fair, 3
denoting good and 4 denoting excellent service.
The following is a breakdown of such
Poor fair good
responses 15 56 331
percentage 1% 4% 21% 74%
information regarding consumer complaints can be
found at the Florida department of agriculture
and consumer services. 1-800-help-fla. http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/