Eye Care in Vietnam: What You See is What You Get

Health - Saigon/HCMC: Oct. 27, 2016

Dr. Nam Tran Pham is one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most recognised eye care specialists. We sat down with her at the American Eye Center in District 7 to discuss the state of eye care in the city. Read our interview below.

In your opinion, is the ophthalmology industry in Ho Chi Minh City developed?

Ophthalmology is doing well. There is good access to technology, and the training for ophthalmologists is improving all the time; education always takes a long time to catch up to international standards, but it’s getting there. Now doctors are going to national and local conferences, and there is more activity in the community.

What about the optometry industry?

The optometry industry here is not yet developed. It was only a few years ago that medical schools in Ho Chi Minh City began to offer optometry programs. There are a lot of opticians [who are, of course, not allowed to diagnosis or treat various eye diseases], but optometry is just catching on.

What do you offer at the American Eye Center?

We offer everything from general eye care, to contacts and glasses, all the way up to eye surgery. We specialise in LASIK surgery, cataract treatment and lens replacement.

Do many patients come in for laser eye surgery?

Yes, they come in to treat different eye conditions with LASIK. Patients can come in for laser eye surgery if they have Myopia, Hyperopia, Astigmatism or Presbyopia. Myopia is nearsightedness, meaning distant objects are blurry for the patient. Hyperopia is farsightedness, meaning nearby objects are blurred. Astigmatism blurs objects both nearby and at a distance. Presbyopia is when patients have “old eyes” in their 40s and above; this happens when the eye lens hardens with age, and loses its ability to properly focus on close objects.

Is laser eye surgery only good for a short while, or does it last for a lifetime?

Patients already in their 20s have stable eyesight, and will most likely just need one LASIK procedure in their life. Those who get laser eye surgery when they are younger may need to wear glasses at some point, since their eyesight has not fully stabilized yet. Less than 5% of people who get LASIK actually need to come in for a second time for a touch-up.

What are some common eye problems we should be aware of in Ho Chi Minh City?

Since so many people ride their motorbikes here, you get a lot of patients who get debris and dust in their face. UV problems are also common because of the strong sun; this can lead to early cataracts, [which can cloud the eye lens and prevent natural light from reaching the retina, causing blurred vision, and glare and halos around objects]. I would recommend two things. First, purchase quality sunglasses with proper UV protection. Second, I would advise riders get a windshield on their motorbike to block debris that may fly into their eyes. These two things should provide good eye protection.

How is Ho Chi Minh City in terms of prices for eye procedures, when compared to nearby countries? And does this affect medical tourism?

It’s affordable when you compare it to overseas treatments. Public hospitals are not expensive since Vietnam has government subsidised health insurance, and private eye clinics in Ho Chi Minh City have the same level of treatment as those in Singapore and Thailand, but at lower prices. Medical tourism for eye care exists here, with patients coming from Europe, America and Australia to get procedures done.

What are the most common eye problems you get at your clinic?

Infections are very common these days. And cataracts is a big issue; this is the number one cause of vision loss around the world. Glaucoma and cataracts cases are as common here as in America.

Are there trustable eyeglass centres in Ho Chi Minh City?

For eyeglasses, there are a lot of Chinese and Indian items that are marketed as something of higher quality. It’s difficult for people to find quality here, you simply have to locate a reputable source. If you don’t, you may end up getting cheap lenses that cause headaches and visual distortion. Some of my friends in the industry say that 90% of glasses in Ho Chi Minh City are “fake”.

What does the future hold for eye care in Ho Chi Minh City?

As people travel around and get exposed to quality medical care abroad, they will have higher expectations for eye care in the city. Medical education is constantly improving, as is technology, so higher standards for clinics will follow. The bad news is that nearsightedness will increase among youth here. Roughly 80-90% of children in East Asia have Myopia; it’s an epidemic. This is due to kids growing up in front of multiple screens.

All photos by www.americaneyecenter.com