Posted on October 5, 2011

FDA Warns LASIK Eye Care Practices to Curtail Advertising Techniques and Gives 90 Days to Stop Making Inflated Promises

This morning I woke up and checked my email to find a very interesting article brought to me by Google. The article addresses the absurdness of claims in LASIK advertising. As someone who has worked in this business since 1997, I can honestly say that I am appalled at the current state of LASIK marketing. I have been helping ophthalmologists and LASIK eye doctors with advertising for many years and certainly understand the pressure to get surgical volume, but seriously… how bad do people want to make the LASIK advertising reputation?

This typically starts with two main issues: First, LASIK-only practices experience a lot of pressure to make surgical volume and often push the filters with claims like “20/20 or your money back” or “SAFE LASIK here!” The second issue is LASIK advertising companies that simply do not understand that this is a medical procedure. These companies spring up almost every year making promises of grandeur to LASIK surgeons and have NO idea what they are doing. After spending a significant amount of time working with a physician on the AAO ethics committee, I started to see the problem as serious, but just sat back and watched the circus unfold. Fortunately for me, my company focuses on website development and search engine positioning so I do not feel compelled to make false claims or sell gimmicks to the wonderful clients that we have. The sad part is, however, I see many out-of-control LASIK advertising campaigns out there and it is really not good for ophthalmology. Do you see plastic surgeons making guarantee claims? Do you see medical doctors offering procedures for $299? This is just crazy. I do understand that offers get more leads, but is it worth the damage this is causing? Average everyday people even think this advertising is foolish. I suggest that every single LASIK ad group go read the AAO advertising guidelines and start to make appropriate claims.

So what happens next is that practices will have 90 days to get their messaging up to ethical levels. Regulatory action will be taken if these claims are not met.

The FDA refrained from pointing out examples of misleading advertising by LASIK practitioners, but a 2008 guidance to eye care doctors, issued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), lists a few:

• Unproven claims. “A company must have a ‘reasonable basis’ for its claims before it runs an ad,” the FTC said. “For example, the statement, ‘clinical studies show that the laser used by Dr. X results in 20/20 vision 85 percent of the time,’ must be supported by clinical studies to that effect for Dr. X’s patients … Statements from satisfied customers are not sufficient to support a health or safety claim or any other claim that requires objective evaluation.”

• Important omissions. Some ads tell the truth, but not the whole truth. For example, a LASIK ad that claimed that nearsighted people can “‘throw away their eyeglasses’ may be deceptive without further qualification, if, after surgery, a significant number of patients require eyeglasses for best vision, for reading, or under particular circumstances, such as for night driving,” the agency said.

• Claims of complete safety. “An advertisement with express or implied representations that the procedure is ‘safe,’ or ‘clinically proven to be safe,’ for example, also should tell consumers that, like any surgery, Lasik, or other advertised refractive surgery, has risks and potential complications, and that they will be discussed during a surgical consultation prior to the procedure,” the FTC said.

The FDA is now giving eye doctors 90 days to get in line and update any advertising or promotional materials that make false claims. After this time, the agency will take regulatory action.