German vision to see clearly

Updated: 2014-02-05 15:18

By Matthew Fulco (China Daily USA)

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Hamburg-based clinic brings precision and finesse to the eye surgery field in China, Matthew Fulco reports from Shanghai.

EuroEyes is one of Germany's largest independent eye surgery clinical groups and among the first to establish a clinic in China, providing specialized corrective surgery for refractive vision errors.

The group covers the full spectrum of refractive surgery from laser to lens treatments, enabling the correction of nearsightedness, farsightedness, cataracts, presbyopia - the loss of the ability to focus up close that comes with aging - and other common afflictions of the eye.

 German vision to see clearly

The first EuroEyes clinic opened at Jinmao Tower in downtown Shanghai in April with all surgical procedures performed by German doctors on a rotating basis. Photos provided to China Daily

 German vision to see clearly

Member of the EuroEyes staff outlines options to a patient at its Shanghai clinic.

Founded in 1993 by renowned ophthalmologist Jorn S. Jorgensen, EuroEyes has over the past two decades built an extensive network of licensed eye clinics across Germany as well as in Jorgensen's native Denmark.

The company is owned and operated by its doctors rather than private investors, allowing them to prioritize medical considerations in their business decisions.

"For this business, the medical standpoint is critical," says Jorgensen, who serves as EuroEyes president, chief executive and head doctor. "As doctors, we know which treatments will be most effective for our patients and the equipment that will provide optimal results in surgery."

After more than 18 months of preparation, its first China clinic opened in April in Jinmao Tower in the Pudong district of Shanghai.

EuroEyes chose Shanghai for its robust economy and long-time sister city relationship with Hamburg. The Hamburg Chamber of Commerce played a decisive role in the planning and setup of the clinic, Jorgensen says.

To maintain German standards and the EuroEyes brand, a team of German doctors led by Jorgensen performs all surgical procedures at the Shanghai clinic.

EuroEyes is the only eye surgery clinic in China that offers such a service. Its four doctors travel between Germany and China on a rotating basis to ensure there are always several on duty at the Shanghai clinic.

"It is our goal not only to correct the refractive error, but to provide an overall improvement in the quality of vision," says Jorgensen. "We can ensure that here by providing our Chinese patients with the same industry-leading treatments we are known for in Europe. Everything is identical - the technology, the equipment, the procedures and, of course, the doctors."

Costs are the same too, Jorgensen says, but EuroEyes offers premium treatments unavailable elsewhere in China. For instance, high volume surgeons - doctors who independently perform at least 1,000 surgeries yearly in a laser eye center operate on patients at the Shanghai clinic.

Overall, the EuroEyes surgeons have carried out more than 200,000 laser eye surgeries and more than 100,000 intraocular surgeries.

In cataract surgery, an artificial lens implant also known as an intraocular lens, is used to replace the eye's cloudy natural lens and restore normal vision.

EuroEyes can also perform refractive lens exchanges to correct presbyopia, which usually sets in between the ages of 45 and 50. Traditionally, presbyopia was treated with prescription glasses to improve reading vision, as even laser cornea surgery is unable to correct it. But a refractive lens exchange gives patients a genuine alternative, says Jorgensen.

"The replacement lens used in refractive lens exchange can drastically reduce or eliminate presbyopia," he says. "It allows clear vision at all distances and means people can be free of eyeglasses even in later life." Additionally, the refractive exchange lens will always remain clear, he says, adding: "Patients who have undergone the procedure will never be bothered by cataracts again."

Innovation has been integral to EuroEyes' success, Jorgensen says.

In 2004, the Hamburg-based clinic was one of the first in Germany to use the femtosecond laser in cataract surgery, which allows surgeons to make precise cuts in targeted areas without damaging surrounding tissues.

Then in 2011, the clinic was again at the forefront of the industry as it began using the advanced image-guided LenSx femtosecond laser, which features a customizable three dimensional surgical platform that lets doctors visualize and execute many of cataract surgery's most challenging steps.

With its adept use of this technology, EuroEyes is the first clinic in China to perform cataract surgery without bladed instruments.

Additionally, since the introduction of iDesign technology, EuroEyes is able to determine the aberrations of the eye in more than 1,250 measured points and utilize those measurements in its laser eye treatments.

In China, where nearsightedness is common, demand for corrective procedures is high and such operations account for a large percentage of the surgeries performed in the EuroEyes Shanghai clinic, Jorgensen says.

A 2011 survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, which involved 350,000 young Chinese nationwide, found 41 percent of primary school children, 67 percent of middle school students and 85 percent of university students suffered from myopia.

Jorgensen says he believes a lack of time spent outdoors as well as incessant use of portable electronic devices are contributing to the unusually high prevalence of myopia in Chinese children.

"Sustained exposure to natural light does seem to offer some protection from short-sightedness," he says. "But it may not be enough if your face is glued to the screen of your smartphone for the entire day. When you focus on something too close, it places strain on the eye and can damage your vision."

According to research cited in the UK newspaper The Express in August, smartphone users hold their handsets just 18-30 centimeters away from their faces, compared with newspapers and books typically held at a distance of 40 centimeters.

Jorgensen does not advocate abandoning smartphones, admittedly a fruitless endeavor, but he does believe it is imperative to use handsets in moderation. Start by taking a break from that little screen and focusing on something in the distance, he says. "When you look into the distance, the eye is relaxed as it focuses on detail that is far away instead of close." German vision to see clearly

Persons afflicted with myopia are more susceptible to other eye problems later in life, Jorgensen adds. One of the most severe is macular degeneration, characterized by a loss of vision in the macula - the center of the visual field - resulting from damage to the retina. Macular degeneration is a primary cause of visual impairment and blindness in adults over 50.

For patients with extreme myopia, which EuroEyes defines as over -8.0 diopters - a unit for measuring the refractive power of a lens - Jorgensen recommends the implantable collamer lens, also known as ICL.

In this procedure, a flexible soft-gel lens composed of collagen and polymer is implanted in the eye. It functions similar to contact lenses in improving vision and is maintenance-free.

"The ICL procedure is ideal for patients with severe near-sightedness," says Jorgensen. "An advantage of the procedure is that unlike laser surgery, it requires no removal of the eye's corneal tissue and still produces excellent results."

Meanwhile, as 80 percent of the Chinese population suffers from some kind of vision impairment, EuroEyes is focusing on expansion plans to better serve patients nationwide, Jorgensen says.

Since many current patients travel to Shanghai from Beijing, EuroEyes will launch a Beijing clinic early next year. Later in 2014, it plans to open clinics in Hangzhou and Shenzhen.

"The China market is extremely interesting for us," Jorgensen says.

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German vision to see clearly

(China Daily USA 02/05/2013 page15)