Two simple methods of assessing visual outcome following cataract surgery were evaluated in India. The first used data obtained from standardized patient records of cataract surgery. The second used data from population-based rapid epidemiological assessments. Analysis of 4168 hospital and eye camp records showed that, with the available standard correction, a good outcome (visual acuity > or = 6/18) was achieved in 37.8%, a borderline outcome (visual acuity 6/246-6/60) in 45.6% and a poor outcome (visual acuity 6/60) in 16.6% of instances. Of 2401 aphakic/pseudophakic eyes examined in a cross-sectional population-based study, outcome was good in 43.5% and poor in 26.4%. For 776 eyes examined in a similar study in a different state, outcome was good in 49.9% and poor in 23.9%. These assessments indicate that outcome with available correction was poor in 15-25% of eyes following cataract surgery. Visual outcome is likely to improve when better correction for aphakia can be provided. Further assessment of the causes of poor visual outcome is needed. The visual outcome following cataract surgery could be monitored on a regular basis by ophthalmologists, using either of the methods evaluated, an exercise which in itself is likely to improve the outcome of surgery. When the proportion of poor outcomes is high (> 10%) further investigation into the causes is warranted.