Medical tourism is on the rise in the United States, particularly among those seeking plastic surgery procedures. There are many reasons behind the trend but, unfortunately, one of the top reasons is procedure cost. Patients are finding the price of procedures in the U.S. may be much higher than the prices in other countries, prompting them to bargain shop for plastic surgery. However, the warning about getting what you pay for may apply more to surgical procedures than any other commodity Americans may purchase out of the safe and predictable confines of the U.S.
Prevalence of Plastic Surgery Tourism
It is difficult to know exactly how big plastic surgery tourism has become, because data is not consistently recorded for this practice. Patients Beyond Borders estimates that around 1.2 million Americans traveled outside the U.S. for medical care in 2014 and nearly half of those might have been seeking plastic surgery procedures. Top destinations for medical tourism include:
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
In addition, Patients Beyond Borders estimates that the demand for medical tourism continues to rise by as much as 15-25 percent annually. With thousands of patients seeking procedures outside the U.S. every year, the concerns about the practice are warranted.
Reasons behind the Practice
The primary reason for heading out of the U.S. for plastic surgery is price. The cost of procedures in other countries is typically much lower, making this option more affordable for many Americans. For example, people heading to India for surgery might save as much as 90 percent, depending on the procedure. Thailand is another country that offers significant savings – as much as 75 percent for some patients.
While the cost-savings is indeed enticing, there are other reasons behind traveling for plastic surgery as well:
- Procedures might be available in other countries that are not yet available in the U.S.
- The reputation of certain surgeons may draw patients looking for the best results
- The idea of recovering from surgery in a tropical location can be attractive
- The ability to “hide” plastic surgery within your vacation plans can be beneficial
- The perception (not always accurate) that the quality of medical care is higher in other countries is also a draw for some patients
Hidden Dangers Lurking
Despite the potential attraction of plastic surgery tourism, there are a number of dangers lurking behind your travel plans. Some of those can be reduced with proper education and preparation, while others may not be so easy to prevent. It is important to identify the risks associated with plastic surgery travel so you can take all the necessary steps to make your procedure as safe and successful as possible if you decide to follow through with your travel plans.
Language can be a significant barrier when traveling to a foreign country for your plastic surgery. Even if you and your surgeon can communicate on a basic level, understanding the complex terms of plastic surgery can be difficult enough in English without trying to decipher them in a language that is not your native tongue. In addition, you need to be able to communicate with the staff at the surgeon’s office, since they are often the ones you will spend the most time with before and after your procedure.
It is relatively easy to determine the qualifications of a plastic surgeon in the U.S. simply by checking their board certifications and disciplinary records. Researching foreign plastic surgeons can be infinitely more complex, without many international organizations with which to base your standards. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery is one of the few that will accredit physicians overseas.
Even if you can verify the qualifications of the surgeon, it may be more difficult to determine whether the facility where your surgery will be performed is accredited or even safe. Facilities that do not follow the highest standards in sterilization and cleanliness may leave you vulnerable to a host of infections that could significantly complicate your recovery process. In addition, it is difficult to know whether the staff at the facility has the necessary training and experience to handle any potential complications that might arise during your procedure or recovery.
Counterfeit Medication, Risky Blood Transfusions
Another unknown in other countries may be the quality of the medication dispensed or the donated blood used in the event a transfusion is needed. Because regulations are not the same in other countries, it is possible to receive medication that is lower quality or even counterfeit. Blood donors in other countries may be paid and the donations may not be as thoroughly tested, which puts you at a higher risk for infections like hepatitis and HIV should a blood transfusion become necessary.
Some countries have a higher incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than the U.S., putting you at greater risk for a serious infection after surgery. In addition, you have not had a chance to build up an immunity to bacteria found in other parts of the world, which could make you more vulnerable to contracting them outside the U.S. For example, a number of patients that recently went to the Dominican Republic for plastic surgery came back to the U.S. with the same severe infection that landed them back in hospitals here.
Complications are a risk with any surgical procedure, but if you suffer complications after plastic surgery travels, you will not have your surgeon nearby to contact with questions or follow-up appointments. While you can go to a surgeon in the U.S. for follow-up treatment, you will often pay out of pocket for the additional care. In some cases, surgeons in the U.S. are challenged by dealing with complications left from other surgeons, because they do not have patient records to know precisely what was done during the first procedure.
The idea of plastic surgery travel may be enticing, but the risks associated with the practice should make you think twice before heading over the border to go under the knife. Your safest bet is nearly always a plastic surgeon in the U.S. that is qualified, certified and prepared to handle any potential complications that might come along. To learn more about your choices in plastic surgery, contact New York Group for Plastic Surgery at one of our four offices: New York City, 855-337-3063; Tarrytown, 914-366-6139 or Goshen, 845-294-2018.