The transition to Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK) is frequently challenging, requiring the adoption of new techniques, skills, and methods. We sought to draw on surgeons' initial experiences with DMEK to characterize the learning curve associated with this procedure and identify factors that could be linked to the frequency of primary graft failure (PGF) in the first 10 cases.
We invited corneal surgeons based in the United States who started performing the DMEK procedure within the past 2 years to answer a 12-question survey using an online survey platform. We analyzed quantitative and qualitative data. A Fisher exact test was used to determine whether preoperative approaches to preparation were associated with decreased PGF rates.
A total of 100 US-based corneal surgeons replied from 34 of 50 states. Of these, 68% reported that DMEK comprised a majority of their endothelial keratoplasty cases. Approximately half of surgeons (52%) had performed more than 20 DMEK cases by the time of the survey, and 51% felt equally comfortable performing DMEK relative to Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty. Among the respondents, 37% answered that they had experienced PGF in the first 10 cases. Scrubbing in with an experienced colleague before surgery was associated with a decreased likelihood of at least one case of PGF (31%, P = 0.049), but not participation in a wet lab with an experienced instructor or mentor (38%, P = 0.50), nor having an eye bank representative present in the operating room (43%, P = 0.886).
The collective experience of 100 surgeons beginning DMEK confirms the importance of mentorship and that the accompaniment of an experienced colleague during the learning curve is associated with lower rates of PGF.