Background: The use of femtosecond lasers (FSL) is increasingly spreading in cataract surgery. Potential advantages over standard manual cataract surgery are the superior precision of corneal incisions and capsular openings as well as the reduction of ultrasound energy for lens nucleus work-up. Exact positioning and dimensioning of the anterior capsular opening should help reduce decentration and tilt of the intraocular lens (IOL) optics and thus achieve better target refraction. Together with the possibility to correct low-grade corneal astigmatism by precise arcuate incision, FSL technology is expected to convert cataract surgery from a purely curative into a refractive procedure.
Methods: Apart from own experiences this review article critically analyses the pertinent literature published so far as well as congress presentations and personal reports of other FSL surgeons. The advantages and disadvantages are scrutinized with regard to their impact on the surgical and refractive results and compared with those experienced by the authors with manual cataract surgery over several decades. Economic and healthcare political aspects are also addressed.
Results: The use of FSL surgery improves the precision and reproducibility of corneal incisions and the capsular opening and reduces the amount of ultrasound energy required for lens nucleus work-up. However, the clinical benefits must be put into perspective due to the subsequent surgical manipulation of the incisions (during lens emulsification, aspiration and IOL injection), the lacking possibility to visualize the crystalline lens equator as the reference for correct capsulotomy centration and the relativity of ultrasound energy consumption on the corneal endothelial trauma. This is of particular relevance against the background of the significantly higher costs. Conversely, tears of the anterior capsule edge which, apart from interfering with correct IOL positioning, may entail serious complications presently occur more frequently with all FSL instruments. From the economic and healthcare political viewpoint, thought should be given to the possible acquisition of the cataract surgical business by the industry or investors, as cataract surgery is a high-volume standardized procedure with enormous future potential. This could fundamentally change our currently decentralized and individualized structures and subsequently the steam of patient and make surgeons largely dependent or superfluous.