Refractive surgery is unquestionably undergoing a resurgence. After a brief downturn in volume in the earlier part of this decade, numerous sources are pointing to double-digit year-over-year growth in this sector during the past few years.
Two key factors appear to be contributing—and they are likely synergistic. First, advancements in techniques and technologies have improved the predictability and accuracy of the outcome. In short, there is a better product on the market to offer to patients. The SMILE procedure, which gained an indication for reduction or elimination of myopia in 2016, and later an expanded indication for addressing myopia and astigmatism in 2018, is the latest offering in this category.
Secondly, and rather fortuitously, the SMILE procedure is emerging at a time when a new patient base is starting to become interested in refractive surgery procedures. The growth of the millennial generation is a substantial factor in procedural growth, and this often-misunderstood generation of patients will undoubtedly be an important part of all our futures. Millennials are already pumping $600 billion in annual spending into our economy, and that figure is expected to rise to $1.4 trillion by 2020.1
However, tapping into this revenue stream will require a different approach than what we have become accustomed to with baby boomers and others. For instance, millennials possess a different value system and process information distinctly from other groups. (An interesting side note: this group actually does not favor the term millennials but it is being used here for lack of a better term.) This generation is hyper-connected on social media and they love to take selfies; their digital literacy far surpasses what any other generation has achieved; and they are generally very confident but also seek validation from peers when it comes to decision-making.
Much can be said about how the millennial generation is different than previous generations, and in fact, there is a lot of very good information available out there to help the interested refractive surgeon learn how to direct marketing and communication to this group. What is important for each of us to consider, though, is that there is a need to tailor our approach differently, taking into account the unique needs and desires of this generation, in order to deliver a good experience, as these patients have different definitions for success.
I mentioned above that there is synergy in the advance of technology and the population shift we are witnessing. The good news is that millennials generally have favorable opinions about LASIK (Figure 1), which should help facilitate conversations about other refractive offerings, including SMILE. And yet, SMILE is a fundamentally different approach to vision correction, one that offers some advantages relative to LASIK that may speak to the mindset and interests of the Millennial generation.
The population shift discussed here provides some context for this series of articles. In the following, some of the true experts in our field touch on the nuances of the SMILE procedure and how it differs from LASIK. In all, with SMILE we do not just have another version of an existing technology, but something truly new; indeed, this new way of approaching surgical vision correction has some unique features that may be particularly appealing for the next wave of patients coming through our clinics.
1.Knoema. US Population by Age and Generation. Available at: https://knoema.com/egyydzc/us-population-by-age-and-generation. Accessed January 9, 2019.