10 Questions for Dr. Phillip C. Hoopes, Jr., M.D.
The field of ophthalmology will continue to experience important changes, says Hoopes
How has vision correction changed in the last few years? What advancements do we currently have that we didn't have 5 years ago?
The field of vision correction surgery has gone through tremendous changes in recent years. Several advancements have made LASIK surgery safer with better quality vision. A key advance was the introduction of Intralase. This technology replaced the metal blade used in early LASIK with a femtosecond laser. Drawbacks of the blade included dry eyes in up to 25 percent of patients and risk for scar formation during the pass of the blade. With the Intralase the incision is thinner which allows for less dry eye and quicker recovery. A second important improvement came with the new generation lasers such as the Allegretto EyeQ and Zeiss Mel-80. These are the most recent FDA approved machines and are designed to maintain the natural curvature of the eye. This improves quality of vision, both day and night. Older model lasers which reached FDA approval 5 or more years ago flatten the eye's curvature and allow for more distortion.
Where do you see this going in the upcoming decade? What advances? How will your field change?
The upcoming decade will bring exciting changes to the field of ophthalmology. I believe we are at the peak of LASIK technology, meaning I don't believe we can do much better than we are doing now. We will see a trend for LASIK to become the surgery of choice for those in their 20's, 30's, and 40's. With the rise in the baby boomer population we will see a shift away from LASIK to lens replacement technology. This uses the same skills as cataract surgery. The most promising advances in technology deal with the quality of the intraocular lenses. Over the past 3 years we have seen a rise in the number of lenses which can restore not only excellent distance vision, but also preserve near vision. This will allow us to give true glasses independence for the baby boomers.
Is there such thing as Natural Vision Correction? What about vision preservation?
Unfortunately the answer is no. There are several advertised products and methods which give patients the false hopes for cures from glasses and other eye diseases like cataracts. These products have NO scientific proof, nor do they go through rigorous FDA approval guidelines. Several vitamins have been touted as being able to preserve vision. The only scientific study which shows benefits of vitamins was performed on people who already had advanced macular degeneration and noted that their vision did not get worse (this doesn't mean better, just not worse).
What role do diet and other daily habits play on our eyesight? Is there anything we can do to preserve our eyesight? Any advice?
I'm a big believer in living a healthy, active lifestyle not only for our eyes, but for our general well being. There is scientific evidence that smoking causes dry eye and is linked to macular degeneration. Ultraviolet radiation has been linked to macular degeneration and cataract formation. Basically I tell my patients; don't smoke, wear good sunglasses when outdoors, and eat a well balanced healthy diet with lots of leafy greens.
What myths or misconceptions are their about our vision, or vision correction?
I don't think there are too many myths out there; the patients that I see daily are very intelligent. I see eye drops to treat cataracts, which can be deceiving. I hear radio ads for the method to see clearly with eye exercises which can get you out of glasses. Other than that most people aren't fooled when it comes to eyesight.
When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?
I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a physician. My father, with whom I practice, once took me with him to a small community emergency room in Illinois for an overnight shift. I was supposed to stay in the break room, but I kept sneaking out to watch all the patients and nurses. I was hooked.
What attracted you to specialize in eyes?
I like to treat patients with eye conditions because we can see an immediate improvement in their life. It doesn't matter if it is as simple as new glasses and contacts or advanced as cataract surgery and cornea transplantation I see my patients improve right away. It is very gratifying to meet with someone the day after surgery and see how happy they are. We take good eyesight for granted and those who have it restored are the most appreciative patients out there.
With the thousands of eyes you see and correct, how do you remain passionate about vision correction? What is your favorite part about your work?
With technology changing every year, I constantly have to re-educate myself and learn new methods. This keeps eye surgery from being monotonous. My favorite part of work has to be the day following surgery. In the past year I had the opportunity to treat a father and son with the same eye condition and each underwent cornea transplantation. One the first day I removed the father's patch and he read 20/40. He hadn't seen like that since grade school and he couldn't stop weeping out of pure joy. I would go back and repeat every test in medical school and miss sleep over and over again as a resident to feel the way I did that morning as a grown man wept, it was humbling.
If you weren't a physician, what would you be? What's your alternative occupation?
A professional golfer. Let's see.get paid to play golf on the world's best golf courses, that's a no brainer.
What's your favorite escape? What do you do to sharpen the saw?
I'm a pretty simple person. Just pulling into the driveway and knowing I'm home with the family is my best escape. A lot of people would say traveling, hiking, reading, etc. When I have a weekend to myself I prefer just to be at home.
To keep me motivated as an eye surgeon I like to travel every spring to Honduras. For 4 years in a row I have visited San Pedro Sula with an American surgical team. We perform hundreds of cataract surgery on the poorest of the poor for free. It reminds me why I became a doctor and eye surgeon, and reminds me of how nice medicine is in the US. If you watch too much of the evening news you can feel like American medicine is broken and that the doctors are mistake-prone and have no compassion. Nothing is farther from the truth.