Norden Laser Associates, a laser vision correction practice located in Ridgewood, is the first in the state to offer ReLEx SMILE minimally invasive laser vision correction. But Dr. Richard Norden, who has been in practice in Northern New Jersey since 1995, is not new to being first.
A New Jersey ophthalmologist’s embrace of new procedures
establishes a clear point of differentiation.
Norden Laser Associates, a laser vision correction practice located in Ridgewood, is the first in the state to offer ReLEx SMILE minimally invasive laser vision correction. But Dr. Richard Norden, who has been in practice in Northern New Jersey since 1995, is not new to being first. He’s tried (and abandoned) many new technologies, always with an aim to offer his patients the best eyecare.
“We’ve always been among the first in technology,” says Dr. Norden. “We were the first in North Jersey to do Lasik. We were the first to do LTK, a non-contact thermal laser, which worked great but the effect wore off, so we abandoned it. I suppose there we have the dubious distinction of being the first in New Jersey.”
“I’ve also used other lasers, which I’ve not been happy with and returned,” he shares. “When this laser came out we thought we could do two things. One, it’s a very comfortable laser which is a small upgrade over the previous equipment. And two, we also wanted to introduce this SMILE procedure, which is widely used in Europe.”
The laser he is referring to is the VisuMax femtosecond laser, which they acquired in December 2016 and is the only laser that can perform the ReLEx SMILE procedure. This is the newest, least invasive refractive laser vision correction technology currently available for treatment of myopia with minimal astigmatism in the U.S. Developed by ZEISS, the procedure uses the VisuMax femtosecond laser to create a lens-shaped layer just beneath the surface of the eye, which is removed through a tiny incision.
In September 2016, it became the first new laser procedure cleared for use by the FDA in 20 years. However, despite close to one million procedures worldwide, SMILE is limited in the U.S. to myopes, only about 30 percent of laser patients. Treatment for myopes with astigmatism should be approved within the year.
The procedure’s advantage is the small-incision lenticular extraction with no flap. “Because this laser technique is so minimally invasive, we’re able to treat patients who — because their jobs are physical — weren’t suited to earlier forms of laser correction,” says Norden. “Including firefighters, police officers, and contact-sport athletes — all of whom are likely to be struck in their eyes.”
How To: Add New Technology to Your Practice
Really think about it. Adding expensive new tech is not a decision to be made lightly, says Dr. Norden. It costs him $10,000 a month for the laser, maintenance and click fees ... that’s $10,000 a month for 5-and-a-half years. “If this procedure catches on the risk becomes less as it gets adopted more widely.”
Do the math. For what it costs Dr. Norden’s practice, he needs to do approximately two patients a month to break even. “We’ve done 17 patients so far, so it’s more than paying for itself very quickly but if there were more in my market I’m not sure we’d be seeing that adoption,” he explains.
Don’t forget tried and true. “In Europe, they promoted it as the new technology and it cannibalized Lasik. We don’t want to do that here,” says Dr. Norden. “We can’t treat all prescriptions, so we don’t speak ill of Lasik.”
Offer options. “We educate patients about their options. SMILE does offer some advantages over Lasik. Especially for people who are “afraid” of the idea of the flap [Norden estimates this at 5 percent]; that if they get hit its going to come loose. And the two are comparable in price so we don’t want people to gravitate towards one or the other based on cost but on an informed decision.”
Get the word out. Dr. Norden isn’t big into marketing technology as a means of patient attraction, but his practice has come up with a clever way to bring attention to their new technology. A tagline: “Let us put a SMILE in your eye.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2017 edition of GO/OD.