LASIK eye surgery – is that in the bread aisle?

20 Oct 2022 3min read

With the demand for services increasing at hospitals and doctors’ offices, new venues for healthcare are being sought. This is bringing about a huge shift in healthcare and the companies that provide it. Recently, major retailers (both high-street and web-based) have heavily invested in new healthcare offerings including Walmart, Amazon, Walgreens and more. For example, Walgreens announced “Walgreens Health”, a technology-enabled care model powered by a nationally scaled, locally delivered healthcare platform . This investment from non-traditional medical companies is bringing about a real democratisation of healthcare. These companies excel at making their services easily accessable by the public.

But just because you build it doesn’t mean people will come – will people be happy to have surgery in a retail establishment?

The history of surgeries

The first surgeries occurred almost 5000 years ago – trephining was a common practice which involved drilling holes in the skull. Evidence of this surgery was seen in many cultures for many centuries and continued into the Renaissance. So, humans have a well-established acceptance of surgery to improve health. But what about the emotional-side to surgery – does location matter? Do we need to go to the hospital for surgery?

A global success story of surgeries being performed on the high street

Optical healthcare has been widely available in retail establishments for centuries. One of the first “opticians” was set up by John McAllister in 1799 in Philadelphia. Originally, he imported glasses made in Europe but by 1815 he was making his own. Hundreds of optical stores in the USA soon followed in the early 1820-30s. Very quickly it was commonplace for people to get their eye-health checked at retail establishments. High street/retail opticians are the norm.

In the UK, David Moulsdale, a trained dispensing optician, opened Optical Express in 1991. It started as a retail establishment for eye tests and dispensing glasses. In 2002 it started building its capability for delivering laser eye surgery. Now, Optical Express surgeons typically perform 16-20 procedures a day. While surgeons for the NHS average far fewer – less than half or 3 to 6 per day. In addition to LASIK, cataract and lens replacement surgery are also offered by Optical Express. But success of retails surgery isn’t limited to the UK. LASIK surgery is a common surgery taking place on the High Street with over 1 million surgeries taking place in Europe in 2004. That trend continues and averages between 600,000 and 1,390,000 surgeries per year.

But what is LASIK surgery?

LASIK or Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is an outpatient procedure that involves changes to the cornea and retina. It is used to correct common vision problems including astigmastisim, far and near-sightedness. A special type of cutting laser is used to change the shape of the cornea.


It’s looking clear that people will have surgeries in retail establishments. Hopefully with new potential venues healthcare will be more readily accessible for all – democratisation of healthcare is still progressing.

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