‘New Opportunities for Optometrists in Laser Eye Surgery Sector’

Press Article from Optometry Today

Optical Express is currently recruiting optometrists across the UK and Ireland as part of an expansion strategy which will continue for the next two years. And the company is celebrating the publication of articles on its laser eye surgery clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction data in this month’s respected Journal of Refractive Surgery.

The positive outcomes for the company were revealed when OT’s Robina Moss met with the company’s global medical director, Dr Steve Schallhorn, co-author of the articles, during his visit to the company’s latest laser eye surgery clinic in London’s new Westfield Shopping Centre.

The company has 200 clinics in the UK employing over 3,000 people, including staff in other parts of Europe and the US. It also has clinics in Ireland, France, Germany, Holland and Croatia. It has invested over and £250m in cutting-edge technology for its laser eye surgery business and is planning for further growth over the next two years. “Same clinic growth has consistently been better than 20% year-over-year, and we have seen additional growth from new clinics and acquisitions”, CEO David Moulsdale told OT.

Mr Moulsdale recruited Dr Schallhorn two years ago after he had retired as a captain of the United States Navy. Based in San Diego, Dr Schallhorn is internationally acknowledged as one of the most respected refractive laser surgeons in the world. He has been the laser eye surgery adviser to NASA for over 10 years and as a successful naval aviator, he was also an advisor to the screenwriter of the Tom Cruise hit film, Top Gun.

Optical Express uses the same and ‘cutting edge’ technology as NASA, which Dr Schallhorn believes has played a huge part in its recent success.

“Optical Express is offering the most advanced form of laser eye surgery based on two phenomenal technologies – Advanced CustomVue Wavefront laser vision correction which identifies and measures imperfections in the eye 25 times more precisely than standard methods used for glasses and contact lenses. It provides the essential data used in a Wavefront treatment. There is also Intralase, an alternative method of creating the protective flap, which is the first part of the procedure using a precision laser. “The technologies didn’t exist five years ago and since then there have been up to five versions as progress has been so fast,” he said.

“Optical Express uses the most modern technologies which also happen to be the most expensive. The company has made a huge commitment but it’s worth it as the best technology is now available in all its stores. This includes the latest Pentacam camera for the best diagnostics. It provides the optometrist and surgeon with accurate information relating to the surface shape and thickness of the cornea and how this varies from the centre.

“It’s a massive investment but it means that every patient can get the benefits and its value is borne out by our patient satisfaction studies which have just been published.” Dr Schallhorn is also chairman of the company’s International Medical Advisory Board. His role is to ensure that the company adheres to the best clinical standards and continuous quality improvement.
Previously Dr Schallhorn created the refractive surgery programme for the US Department of Defense, a world-first in introducing laser eye surgery to enhance the performance of its pilots and military personnel.

The programme has now grown to 24 laser centres in the US and one in Germany. Since it began, hundreds of thousands of people in the armed forces have had laser eye surgery and this also led to police, fire and other emergency service personnel in the US following suit. He has seen a similar though more low key change in attitudes in the UK. “Laser eye surgery is becoming part of the culture as acceptance is high. Of course any surgery carries risks but if you step off the street you risk getting hit by a car.”

“Laser eye surgery is very safe and it’s truly a life changing experience. Optical Express is quite prominent in the UK and there is greater awareness of the procedures, creating greater demand.” The expansion means that the company is recruiting. “Optometrists are really central and important to the role of Optical Express in delivering eye care and laser eye surgery,” said Dr Schallhorn. “We always need good optometrists and this is increasing as we are expanding. We are always seeking optometrists with good clinical skills who are highly ambitious and motivated.”

Dr Schallhorn joined the company after being approached directly by Mr Moulsdale. “I found that we shared the same beliefs and philosophies. It was a natural fit,” he said.

“There are exciting things happening. We are starting to set the standards for refractive surgery, particularly with our technology, IT systems and electronic patient records but also with our ability to analyse outcomes and good clinical governance. We also benefit from having the world’s leading experts as our clinical advisers.”

Sadly Dr Schallhorn no longer enjoys flying although a lot of his experiences did feature in the Top Gun film.

“Once you’ve experienced the technology and thrust of combat flying the F14s, flying a Cessna is just not the same,” he said. “Such flying is very physically demanding and once you are in your 30s you are considered an old man. Air combat involves making incredibly fast decisions for moves and counter moves. You can be doing four to five hundred moves in just 45 seconds. It’s the ultimate video game.” Dr Schallhorn left his days as a Top Gun instructor behind him to go to medical school but fortunately for optics he retains the drive to try to achieve the best standards possible.

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