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News 3 Investigators
Sight for Sale, Pt. 1
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LAS VEGAS, February 27, 2002
Darcy Spears reporting

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 did not.

"It's been 11 months since my surgery and my eyes have hurt me every day, every night," says Gail.
Gail says she still needs reading glasses and can't really see any better.
"It’s almost like the nerve endings have been damaged and they're severely dry."
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 Davis.

"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 degree.

"For this consultation, what did this tell me? That I'm a candidate?" Asked our producer.

"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 Matthew Zifrony.
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:
  • Eye surgery watchdog group website:
  • Agency that oversees eyeglass world is Nevada State Board of Dispensing Opticians at
  • Nevada state law governing optometry:
  • 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. (section regarding co-management with ophthalmologists is 636.374)

Related articles:

Additional info:
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 responses:
Poor fair good excellent
responses 15 56 331 1,172
percentage 1% 4% 21% 74%

More information regarding consumer complaints can be found at the Florida department of agriculture and consumer services. 1-800-help-fla.

Where News Comes First
News 3 Investigators
Sight for Sale, Pt. 2
Who would you want telling you whether you were a candidate for laser eye surgery? A salesperson? A corporate business executive? Probably a doctor. But we found that may not be the case at one center, where sight is for sale.
News 3 Investigators
Sight for Sale, Pt. 3
Marketing medical procedures is controversial, but low-ball ads for laser eye surgery are everywhere. In her continuing coverage, News 3 investigator Darcy Spears exposes some lasik ads promising more than they deliver.
News 3 Investigators
Sight for Sale, Pt. 4
Out of town surgeons fly in and do surgeries and exams for a few days, then fly out. It's a corporate medicine concept used by the Laser Vision Institute. They say it guarantees patients the best care, but we found that care isn't always coming from a properly licensed doctor when sight is for sale.

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