Is Laser Eye Surgery in Thailand safe?

Medical tourism is a growing phenomenon across many southeast Asian countries. Including Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. People choose to travel overseas for various medical reasons. Such as dental procedures, cosmetic surgery, and eye operations. Often due to these procedures being available for a much lower cost when compared to their home country. Opting to have a treatment done internationally can also offer shorter waiting periods. As well as, more privacy and an opportunity to have a holiday at the same time. Eye surgery in Thailand may be accessible for a fraction of the price of the same procedure in Australia but these potential benefits come with a host of potential risks.

Standards of skill and training

Ophthalmology training is not the same across all countries. A computer guides many of the steps in both LASIK and PRK procedures. But significant experience is still desirable to achieve the optimal visual outcome. To minimise the risk of complications, all candidates for laser eye surgery should first undergo a comprehensive eye examination by a trained clinician. This is to ensure there are no findings. Such as the beginnings of cataracts or cornea disease. With the potential to compromise the final outcome of the surgery. Access to the most modern equipment and technology in the hospitals of developing countries can also be limited.

Communication barriers

Language and communication barriers can also add further anxiety and complication to an already stressful situation. As part of a good, comprehensive service, a detailed interview prior to surgery is necessary. This should outline what the patient is hoping to achieve from their refractive eye surgery. Such as whether they wish to reduce dependency on both distance and near prescriptions. Or if they would prefer to achieve excellent long distance vision and still maintain reading glasses.
Even if the clinician is fluent in English, Australian slang words or cultural differences can create confusion.
There may also be difficulty in communicating symptoms. In case of complications, such as pain, glare, grittiness, haloes, or floaters.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria

Undergoing laser eye surgery in Thailand may expose you to strains of bacteria not encountered in Australia. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has raised concerns about the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Contracted by patients undertaking medical procedures in foreign countries. Then transferred into Australia upon their return. Not only does this contribute to antibiotic-resistant infections in our country but also places the patient themselves at great risk of encountering a post-operative eye infection that does not respond to the antibiotics we have available.

Lack of consistent follow-up and continuity of care

Multiple review appointments are required after undergoing eye laser surgery. While Thailand may be a nice place for a short holiday, some cases recover slowly or encounter unexpected complications. These will likely result in requiring a follow-up in the patient’s home country with a different doctor. This incurs costs not covered under the original fees of the procedure done in a Thai hospital. Lacking appropriate medical records from the original doctor can also further complicate the situation.

Travel insurance and unexpected complications

Some insurance providers now offer contribution to travel undertaken for medical tourism purposes. Including eye laser surgery in Thailand. But, many do not. Basic travel insurance policies may exclude medical complications arising from elective procedures done overseas. Again, resulting in significant additional costs.
Patients having suffered medical negligence or malpractice after eye surgery overseas may experience difficulty. Both regarding legal support or rights. The standards and procedures of legal systems in foreign countries differ quite substantially. Those wishing to make a medical complaint against a healthcare provider abroad can find themselves disadvantaged.
Traveling to Thailand for a combination holiday/laser eye surgery trip may seem like a good idea for affordable treatment. But it pays to be aware of the risks that medical tourism carries. Vision is precious. Refractive eye surgery is popular and good with outcomes. However, it is not without risk of vision-damaging complications.
Undertake your procedure in your home country. By an experienced ophthalmologist. With access to reliable support by the Australian healthcare system. Should problems arise, this is your best chance of getting the results you want.

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About the expert

Dr Anton van Heerden, MBCHB; FRANZCO
Ophthalmologist & Laser Eye Surgeon

Based in Melbourne, but with a reputation that transcends borders, Dr Van Heerden sets the highest bar for laser vision correction surgery in Australia. While his skills and experience are second to none, it is his fun, caring and down to earth nature that truly set’s him apart from the rest. You can sit back and enjoy the journey knowing every detail has been carefully considered.