In the LASIK eye industry, new technologies emerge with the regularity of garden perennials.

Each year brings the Next Big Thing. Doctors scramble to keep up with the Joneses or, more likely in New Jersey, the Dello Russo’s.

Joseph Dello Russo, the Bergenfield eye surgeon whose celebrity endorsements and ubiquitous radio commercials make him a recognizable name, is the first surgeon in the northeast to purchase the IntraLase FS laser.

He soon will begin a new round of radio commercials advertising his shiny new machine, which uses a laser instead of a blade to cut the corneal flap,

“I know some other doctors may say this is unproven, but I’ve been following this technology for over a year. It looks like it’s perfect,” the surgeon said.

Other surgeons in the competitive New Jersey LASIK market are watching carefully to see if the new laser is a technological blip or the wave of the future.

“It’s a little bit of hype at this point. It looks very promising, but the experience isn’t there yet,” said Edward Harmer, clinical director of the TLC Laser Eye Center in Elmwood Park. He said the company is moving cautiously.

“We know some surgeons on the West Coast who have had inconsistent results,” he said.

In LASIK eye surgery, doctors cut a flap off the top of the cornea with a blade called a microkeratome. The surgeons then use a laser to reshape the cornea and improve vision. The flap is then returned.

Proponents of IntraLase say their technology will reduce flap complications such as halos, reduced night vision and blurred vision. The IntraLase FS Laser, guided by a computer, uses a rapidly fired beam to cut the corneal flap. Proponents say the laser is more precise than a blade.

Surgeons will pay about $100 each time they use the machine, said Trudy Larkin, director of marketing for IntraLase Corp., which is based in Irvine, Calif.

The laser is ultra-fast It will significantly reduce many of the complications that have plagued the industry,” she said. She said none of the 2,500 surgeries done with IntraLase have had complications. Peter Hersh called IntraLase potentially interesting but said no track record is available yet to evaluate.

Another surgeon, Edward HerJaya of Invision Eye Care in Lakewood and in Eatontown, has long followed IntraLase and remains skeptical.

“It’s a great marketing tool to bring patients in the door. You can market ’all Laser LASIK,’” he said. “But even the people involved in the clinical trials are not using it as their primary tool for making flaps.”

He said microkeratomes have become infinitely better in recent years and that a good surgeon has complications in only about one of every several thousand cases. He called the IntraLase machine bulky and cumbersome.

“They take a long time to set up. You have to move the patient from one machine to another,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s incredibly superior to what we have now.”

Dave Harmon, the editor of Market Scope, an industry newsletter, said, “It’s too soon to tell if this will become standard. They are just beginning to be sold.”

As for Dello Russo, he’s giving patients a choice: two eyes done with a blade for $5,000 or with IntraLase for $5,500. The procedure is almost never covered by health insurance. He thinks the technology eventually will become standard.

“Nothing on the horizon is better than we have now. Eventually, we will do all the procedures with the IntraLase,” he said. ”The whole purpose is to add safety and eliminate complications.”

– Carol Ann Campbell