Cataract surgery continuing as usual in Red Deer

A Red Deer cataract surgeon is out to calm her patients’ nerves. Ophthalmologist Dr. Elizabeth Lythgoe conducts the vast majority of cataract surgeries in the city — 90 or 100 a month — and she’s got a message she’s desperately trying to get out.

Dr. Elizabeth Lythgoe

Dr. Elizabeth Lythgoe

A Red Deer cataract surgeon is out to calm her patients’ nerves.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Elizabeth Lythgoe conducts the vast majority of cataract surgeries in the city — 90 or 100 a month — and she’s got a message she’s desperately trying to get out.

“There’s been so much rumour going around,” Lythgoe said this week, after dealing with a barrage of queries from worried patients. “In Red Deer, nothing is changing (with eye operations).”

Lythgoe attended a provincial meeting held in Red Deer on Saturday between ophthalmologists and Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky about physician concerns over changes being made to how eye surgeries are conducted in private clinics in Edmonton and Calgary.

Cataract surgeries have been done at a number of private and public facilities in Edmonton and mostly private facilities in Calgary.

But ophthalmologists have been advised by Alberta Health Services that as of April 1, privately conducted cataract surgeries (and a smattering of other eye surgeries) must be done out of the two private surgical centres in Edmonton and two in Calgary that won AHS contracts.

Moving operations to these four centres will result in 2,140 additional cataract surgeries being conducted and shortened wait times, AHS has said.

“The ophthalmologists are concerned because . . . it’s very hard to go from using your own equipment and your own instruments and tools and nursing staff, to someone else’s technique. There’s a learning curve to that, and it takes time,” said Lythgoe.

“Plus they’re concerned about having to reorganize everybody’s cataract wait lists to these centres.”

Lythgoe said that the change came “out of the blue” to some ophthalmologists who have been running private clinics for 15 and 20 years, and they were concerned about having to lay off staff at those facilities.

“It was very difficult on young ophthalmologists who had had to fund their own private facilities in trying to provide better care to Albertans,” she said. “It’s very expensive to set up a surgical program.”

Lythgoe reiterated that nothing will change in Red Deer. She pointed out that wait times for cataract operations here are about four to six weeks, compared to about six months in Edmonton and a year to a year and a half in Calgary, prior to the changes.

The disparity has been such that Lythgoe has encountered patients from the two cities double-booking their way into her office, a practice she frowns on.

“I think there’s so much confusion about the issue that I need to let people know that . . . all of the surgical procedures are continuing as normal,” said Lythgoe, who does her surgeries at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

“There’s no threat.”

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