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Health news and issues in the Ozarks.

Precision Cataract Laser System Unveiled at Mercy

The Catalys Precision Laser System by OptiMedica/Credit: Scott Harvey

As the number of people with cataracts grows, a new laser surgery option is gaining momentum, with Mercy Hospital Springfield set to become the first in the region to offer the bladeless procedure next week. KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports.

Roughly 30 cataracts surgeries are performed at the hospital’s Eye and Ear Center each day, according to Dr. Shachar Tauber, Mercy ophthalmology section chair. And while the Catalys Precision Laser System won’t necessarily speed up the amount of patients right away, it’ll help with accuracy, he says.

“Can they do the 30th cataract with the same strength and the same concentration as the first? If there’s a distraction in the room, the patient moves or something – normal things that happens in the operating room - what happens to that surgeon on the 29th case? Most of the time it works very well. But for that small percentage of the time where we’re going to have complications, we have to address that,” Dr. Tauber said.

While the surgery outcome is the same – the removal of the cataract - the procedure is different. Tauber says to better understand the process, picture a peanut M&M, but instead of the candy coating being a particular color, make it clear.

“By hand we cut a circle in the candy, we take an ultrasound and we manually remove the chocolate and the nut, and then we’re left with a shell, if you will, with a center opening. Into that center opening we put an implant in, and it’s the implant that’s the magic, because that’s the vision.”

And that is what cataracts surgeons are doing now. But the idea is that with this new laser, the incision made into the eye is more precise.

Dr. Tauber says he’s been following the Catalys Precision Laser System for the last several years. He bought two, making Mercy the first hospital in the nation to own more than one, to offer the laser service to all cataracts patients. The price for the machine runs from $300,000 to $600,000. But the cost to patients for the procedure will remain the same.  Holding the line on the procedure cost while offering the service to all patients was the result of a two year negotiating process, says Tauber, with OptiMedica, the machine manufacturer, and AVID Medical.

“We sat down with their executives who said, ‘you have an interested story: the idea that you want to provide this care to every patient – no one’s doing it – we want to be there with you, how do we help?’ And we said, essentially, we need you to make your prices reasonable for us so that we can do this to the patient. And you know what? Three months ago they made it happen.”

The latest cataract census from 2001-2010, explains the doctor, showed there was a 22 percent increase in those with the eye disease that were to a point that they undergo surgery. Figures were also higher for things like glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The hospital says most cataract patients are above 65 and can expect their surgery to be covered by Medicare.

Other benefits of the new procedure are recovery time. Instead of waiting perhaps days for your vision to fully return following the procedure, the results can be nearly instantaneous. That’s according to Patricia Kane, the director of nursing with Mann Eye Institute and Laser Center in Houston, Texas, who was present at Wednesday’s media unveiling in Springfield. Kane, an ophthalmic nurse for 40 years, was the first in the nation to receive the laser procedure, volunteering at her hospital.

“After surgery, I was 20-25 post-op. Both eyes. It’s a miracle," Kane says. “The nicest think you can do is give a patient back their site, but to not go back through that period where it’s blurry and you don’t have good vision right away, this is far superior.”

As far as the concern that the hospital is simply turning cataracts procedures over to a machine, Dr. Tauber says he understands the notion.

“But you know what? This machine’s gonna do it in such a way that it’ll be around day in, day out, each surgeon. So a new surgeon coming right out of training that we know will have a learning curve to get this done will not have to deal with that. And that to me is… so any patient that comes to Mercy – and this was something that was very important for us – will have that,” Tauber says.

He also believes the new machines will help recruit new surgeons, as well as serve a training grounds for other area doctors.

Mercy will begin performing all cataract surgeries using the Catalys Precision Laser System beginning March 4.

You can see an animation of how laser cataract removal works by clicking here.

Scott joined KSMU in November 2012. He had previously served five years as news director for KETR-FM, the public radio station in Commerce, Texas. A graduate of Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Scott enjoys producing human-interest stories, among other pieces that educate and engage the community. When not at work, he’s often taking part in outdoor activities, exploring new areas and restaurants, or staying up-to-date with the latest news and information. Scott was born and raised in Shenandoah, Iowa.