Cataract surgery can cost around $3,500 per eye on average, and it boasts a 90% success rate. People look to travel abroad to have surgeries like these done as a means of cutting the cost. This is called medical tourism, and it can be highly dangerous.
There are a multitude of negatives when having surgery abroad, including:
- Lack of regulations and ability to successfully confirm the experience and credentials of the surgeon, staff, and clinic doing the procedure.
- Complications from the surgery, such as the risk of infection and excessive bleeding.
- Inability to receive proper follow-up care and potential communication barriers.
- A higher overall cost when you factor in travel and additional procedures to fix problems.
Cataract surgery is considered safe and effective in the United States. When performed outside the U.S., it carries the potential for many more risks and possible complications.
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Experience & Credentials
When having a surgical procedure, it is important to have faith in your medical team and the place where the operation is going to be performed. Usually, you will visit with a doctor and discuss your options before committing to surgery. You can also check out the clinic, noting its cleanliness and how day-to-day operations are managed.
If you travel out of the country to have cataract surgery, you will not have these luxuries. You will instead be committing to a procedure sight unseen. You are not able to know with certainty what the clinic’s daily operations are or how clean the clinic is.
In the United States, ophthalmologists are required to be board-certified and licensed through their state after completing medical school and passing a national exam. Clinics are required to hold specific licenses and maintain a certain level of credentials that may not be required in other countries. Medical procedures and doctors are highly regulated in America, and the same is often not true elsewhere.
Cataract surgery is typically quick, minimally invasive, and has a relatively short healing time.
There are some risks associated with cataract surgery, such as the following:
All of these risks can be elevated when getting cataract surgery abroad. It is difficult to know definitively what technology is being used in another country. In the United States, cataract surgery is most often done with a laser, as the cloudy lens is replaced with an artificial intraocular lens (IOL). This may not be true abroad.
One of the biggest risk factors of having surgery abroad is the potential for infection. Safety protocols and sanitation procedures may not be as stringent in other countries as they are in the United States. This can lead to a higher incidence of infection.
You may also come into contact with bacteria and/or viruses that you do not have an immunity to in a foreign country. This can make these issues harder to treat.
Lack of Follow-Up Care
Traveling too soon after cataract surgery can increase the odds for complications like blood clots. It also does not allow your body the proper time needed to rest and recover after surgery.
If you get cataract surgery abroad, there may be communication difficulties that can be the result of a language barrier. When you don’t speak the same language as the people treating you, it can be hard to discuss possible concerns, complications that arise, or special considerations.
One of the important aspects of any surgery is proper follow-up care. When having surgery abroad, it’s unlikely that you will be able to follow up as easily with the doctor and team that performed your operation since you don’t live in the area.
If you do have a complication or emergency after you return home, it will take time to get a local doctor on board. It may be difficult to get timely information about your surgery from the doctor who performed it.
It Is Not Always Cheaper
Cataract surgery is not always cheaper in other countries than it is in the United States, particularly for surgery on one eye. Studies have found America to be highly competitive pricewise when it comes to unilateral cataract surgery.
Cataract surgery is often deemed a medically necessary procedure. Therefore, it is regularly covered by insurance and Medicare.
Procedures done abroad may not covered by your health insurance. Medicare generally does not cover procedures done abroad. Some other insurance providers might, covering it at the out-of-network level.
Research has shown that complications related to cosmetic surgical procedures done abroad cost more than $18,000 on average. The complications that can arise after cataract surgery can end up costing you more in the long run than the procedure itself. Additionally, the cost of travel (including airfare, hotel accommodations, food, and travel expenses) can add up and tack quite a bit of money onto the cost of your surgery.
Cataract surgery is one of the most frequently performed operations in the United States. It is safer, and often more cost-effective, to have it done here rather than traveling abroad for the operation.
Cataracts. (August 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).
Ophthalmologist Licensure and Board Certification. (2020). HealthCare Pathway.
Cataract Surgery. (September 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
A Comparative Analysis of the Cost of Cataract Surgery Abroad and in the United States. (June 2014). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.
Population Health Implications of Medical Tourism. (July 2017). Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.