If you already have an ophthalmologist, start by asking him or her for an evaluation and referral to a surgeon who frequently performs laser eye surgery. Many ophthalmologists don’t perform these procedures but know a lot about their peers who do—they see patients whose eyes reveal the results of good and bad surgeries done by other doctors. You might also get useful feedback from a trusted optometrist from whom you get eyeglasses or contacts.

A good resource for finding medical care is the list of ophthalmologists in our doctors section here at Checkbook.org. These are the doctors who were mentioned most often when we asked virtually all actively practicing physicians in the area to name the one or two physicians in each of 38 specialty fields he or she “would consider most desirable for care of a loved one.”

We also have patient reviews of eyewear centers, optometrists, and ophthalmologists.

Find out how much experience prospective surgeons have. Experience is very important. Some doctors perform more than 1,000 of these surgeries per year. Some studies have shown that surgeries performed by doctors doing their first few hundred operations with a specific technique may be at least twice as likely to have complications or poor results than surgeries performed by more experienced doctors. Also, a doctor who has done many laser eye surgeries may be better able than a less experienced one to assess your suitability for the treatment. And an experienced doctor might be better able to deal with problems that might come up, like a malfunction of the equipment, an unintentional cutting through of the hinge of the flap during surgery, a postoperative infection, or the need to pry up the flap again to do a retreatment if the first correction proves unsatisfactory after several months.

Meet with surgeons and ask about their success rates with patients with conditions like yours. You want a doctor who gives you plenty of “chair time”— takes a thorough medical history; listens to your questions and concerns; and fully explains in advance the procedure, risks, and alternatives. “When you meet the surgeon, get a sense of whether he really takes time to hear your goals, informs you about what could go wrong, and discusses surgical alternatives,” says says Rachel Bishop, M.D., chief of the Consult Services Section of the National Eye Institute.

During this consultation, the doctor should take careful measurements of your eyes to assess whether you are a good candidate for laser eye surgery and determine exactly how the laser eye surgery equipment should be programmed to perform the procedure.

If after an evaluation you like the surgeon but are not convinced that you are a good candidate for the surgery—keep in mind that doctors have a financial incentive to encourage patients to get surgery—don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.

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