LASIK Conflicts Of Interest

LASIK & the Department of Defense

LASIK patient advocates have expressed strong concern of bias on the part of military LASIK surgeons, particularly Navy LASIK surgeons, who have close ties with organized ophthalmology. For example, Steve Schallhorn, MD, Capt, US Navy (Retired) is a paid medical malpractice defense expert witness and an industry consultant who has made public statements and published literature denying the connection between a poor LASIK outcome and diminished quality of life has financial interests in companies that manufacture LASIK devices and is currently the medical director of one of the largest corporate providers of LASIK in the world. Furthermore, LASIK patient advocates have questioned a defense contract awarded around the time of Schallhorn’s retirement from the Navy.

In December 2006, IntraLase announced that the Dept. of Defense had awarded the company a $45 million, 5-year contract to supply its flap-cutting lasers to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Schallhorn was a consultant for and had financial interests in Advanced Medical Optics, the company that acquired IntraLase. Further evidence of bias can be found in an article in the December 2009 edition of JAMA, which reported that Schallhorn is “confident that once the quality-of-life issues are studied, LASIK will be shown to be even more safe and effective”.

Former Navy LASIK surgeon, David Tanzer, MD, is a member of ASCRS and AAO and co-authored several papers favorable to LASIK with Schallhorn. Tanzer is the past Director of Refractive Surgery at Naval Medical Center San Diego having retired in 2011 and currently practices refractive surgery in San Diego. Tanzer, wearing Navy dress blues, testified in favor of LASIK at the 2008 FDA hearing, characterizing LASIK as “overwhelmingly successful”, “extremely low risk”, and having “incredibly high” satisfaction rates.

Dr. Jennifer Morse, former Navy Program Director for Psychiatry in San Diego and paid ASCRS consultant, also presented testimony in favor of LASIK at the FDA hearing. Morse talked about the benefits of LASIK in military and civilian populations and asserted that there is no scientific evidence of any direct link between LASIK and depression or suicide. Several months later at a meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, Morse spoke about dissatisfied LASIK patients, saying there must be some neurologic disconnect between what their eyes are seeing and what their brain is processing. ASCRS paid Morse’s travel expenses to attend the hearing.

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