UM adds to eye surgery sites; ClearVision partner supplies mobile lasers


University of Maryland eye doctors said yesterday that they will use mobile lasers to offer vision correction at sites around Baltimore in partnership with a Colorado firm.

The Maryland Center for Eye Care, the ophthalmology faculty practice group of the University of Maryland Medical Center, will provide the surgeons, while Colorado-based ClearVision Laser Centers will own the lasers and provide the technicians.

"Instead of owning five or six lasers, we buy one or two and move them," said Michael E. Bjoro, senior administrator for the department of ophthalmology. "Once the volumes are there to support a fixed site, they convert."

While the laser is mobile, it is fixed in place in a medical office before it is used.

The Maryland doctors are currently performing vision correction at Shipley's Choice in Anne Arundel County, where University of Maryland has a large outpatient center, and in Bel Air.

Another site will open at White Marsh in December, with plans to expand to Owings Mills, Timonium, Columbia and at the University of Maryland Medical Center downtown, said Dick Humphrey, vice president of sales for Clear-Vision.

The university-ClearVision partnership jumps into a rapidly changing market. "When we started three months ago, there were about four lasers in the Baltimore area -- now there are about 12," Humphrey said.

A procedure called laser-assisted in-situ keratotomy, known by its acronym, LASIK, is rapidly growing in popularity. In a LASIK procedure, the surgeon slices a flap in the cornea, the transparent front of the eyeball, uses a laser to reshape the cornea, and returns the flap to its place. LASIK can often eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses.

Humphrey said he was not deterred from entering the Baltimore market by the amount of competition or by the discount pricing offered by some centers. While some are advertising prices of less than $3,000 for both eyes, the university-ClearVision centers will charge $5,200.

Bjoro said Maryland Center for Eye Care did a market study two years ago and decided not to set up a center then. "But now," he said, "the market demand is there."

Dr. Eve Higginbotham, chief of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said her department sought a partner because the lasers are so expensive -- half a million dollars or more -- and it's hard to afford to keep up with advances in technology. Dr. Ramzi Hamady, an eye surgeon and co-director of University Laser Vision, said, "It's like buying a computer -- but much more expensive."

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