Cleveland Lasik, plastic surgeons have seen more demand during pandemic

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.CLEVELAND, Ohio — Jim Principi wasn’t sure if people would want to get Lasik during a pandemic.

Principi is the director of operations and a professional optician at the Lasik Vision Centers of Cleveland in Independence, and he was concerned about the company reopening in May, right in the thick of the coronavirus scare.

“I was thinking about doing some type of aggressive promotion to try to have people come in, and all of a sudden, the volume just hit us with a rush,” Principi said. “It was incredible, and it hasn’t stopped.”

The coronavirus has increased the demand for both vision and plastic surgeries, as people work from home.

During their third quarter, Lasik Vision Centers was up 50% for Lasik and Photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) surgery, compared to 2019, Principi said. The company was up 119% for Lasik and PRK surgery in October compared to October 2019.

Lasik Vision Centers is not alone in its boost, though. ClearChoice Custom Lasik Center in Brecksville and Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute have also seen more people want to get LASIK.

So why are more people choosing to get the elective surgery, which generally costs around $4,500, during a pandemic?

That question has a few answers, and one deals with the fact that people who wear glasses are tired of their glasses fogging up from wearing masks.

“Most people are back to work now, and they’re required to wear masks at work,” Principi said. “And if they’re wearing glasses, they’re looking through these foggy glasses all day. It’s very inconvenient.”

Along with the annoyance of foggy glasses, some patients have extra cash. The coronavirus pretty much wiped out summer vacations, so some people may have disposable income just waiting to be used.

Principi said some vision plans such as VSP Vision Care and EyeMed provide discounts of 15-20% off, and most people with plans pay between $3,700-$3,900. Dr. James Randleman, a Lasik surgeon at the Cole Eye Institute, said he rarely sees insurers provide coverage for the procedure, but it occasionally happens.

Dr. William Wiley, the medical director at ClearChoice, said most health insurers don’t cover it, but many do have discounts available ranging from 10-20%. He’s also seen people finance the procedure with companies like CareCredit.

Wiley and ClearChoice have provided healthcare providers and essential workers with a discount to give back to them for the work they’ve done during the pandemic. The company’s current special runs through the end of the year, and the procedure is at $1,950 an eye; essential workers receive an extra $150 off per eye. For people 26 and under, the discounted price is $1,649 per eye.

With a bevy of financial options available, people are taking advantage of the chance to better their vision.

“To be honest, we didn’t necessarily predict the sudden surge, but since COVID, once things opened up, once the shelter in place was lifted, I think a lot of people sort of sat home and for those two months sort of re-evaluated things and looked at their lifestyle,” Wiley said. “A lot of people sort of started re-investing I think in themselves.”

The LASIK surgery does not have a long recovery time, as Principi said most patients are back at work as early as the following day.

But this year has produced flexibility and availability. Lasik Vision Centers only operates every other Friday, but Principi said they’re seeing as many as upwards of 26 or 27 patients on a surgery day; before the pandemic, they typically saw 12-15, with 20 on a good day.

Wiley said ClearChoice is doing 8-10 surgery days a month and seeing 20-30 patients a day on average. Before the pandemic they were seeing about the same number of patients, but they didn’t have as many surgery days. Randleman said Cole Eye’s numbers aren’t going above a typical busy time; it’s just that this period is usually not busy for them. He said Cole Eye is operating more than one day almost each week.

“Either their availability is greater and/or their frustration levels have pushed them to the point of saying that they want to do it,” Randleman said.

Lasik isn’t the only elective surgery in town seeing a jump, though. Dr. Ali Totonchi, a plastic surgeon at MetroHealth, said he’s seen higher demand for elective plastic surgeries in the city and nationally.

When the shutdown came, MetroHealth wasn’t doing any elective surgeries because of concerns about hospital capacity. Emergency surgeries were happening, though, and Totonchi helped fix arm and facial injuries. When the hospital was able to do elective plastic surgeries again, Totonchi saw the desire for them go up.

“Considering my practice I do lots of cosmetic surgery,” Totonchi said. “I saw lots of patients for body contouring, facial cosmetic surgeries, rhinoplasty. There was significant increase in the consults for those.”

Totonchi said he’s usually busy, but to keep up with demand, he had to transfer some of his non-cosmetic surgeries to colleagues. If he has a slate of shorter surgeries, Totonchi said he’ll do six or seven a day. But there might be a day where he has a 10-hour surgery, and that will be his only one.

He doesn’t ask why patients are getting specific surgeries, as he only wants to focus on their needs. He does have a speculation though, as to why more people are coming in.

“It could be that patients have less hectic schedules at work, they don’t have to go to work,” Totonchi said. “One of the reasons that people have reservations to get plastic surgery is the signs of the surgery. Swelling, bruising. So since they work from home, they can hide it easily. They can sit home, still work, and people don’t have to know that they had plastic surgery.”

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Luke Everdeen

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