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Medical Tourism – Things to Consider Before Traveling for Plastic Surgery

Coming back from a recent medical conference (and boat show, to be honest – it was Miami) in February, I came across an ad in Sky Mall magazine showing the prices for a facelift and other cosmetic procedures in foreign countries…and as I read more closely, for medical procedures as well such as open heart surgery. I was floored! Now, kudos to Delta’s advertising team, as I imagine, in order to get to Zimbabwe for a breast augmentation one would potentially purchase a round trip ticket for them and their caregiver through Delta.

Good advertising, but bad idea.
I did a little research and it is amazing to me the information that you can find in about 4 minutes on this topic through Google. My first website basically allows you to choose your procedure and where you would like to go and then instantly you can get a quote and I am sure an email from a “qualified” “physician” to accept your credit card information over the phone. Some of the prices I was able to get, just briefly were $15,000 for a facelift here, to $4,900 in Mexico, $2,100 in Vietnam, $5,000 in Columbia, $3,500 in Jordan to $15,300 in Korea.

I then went to the Aesthetic Society of Plastic Surgery’s website, just to see what I could find there, and I read page after page of patients having incredible, sometimes life ending, complications after trying to save some money by going elsewhere for their surgery. One blog asked 2000 plastic surgeons how many patients they had seen who had previously done something medical abroad. Out of 368 respondents, the answer was 80% affirmative. Most alarming to me is that of that 80%; approximately 30% had complications, specifically infections. Others were wound dehiscence (wound opening and delay in healing) contour abnormality, and hematoma (post-op bleeding). Patients found that compensation for these complications was variable. (reference)
Additionally, who is going to take care of these concerns now that you are home? You didn’t have a tummy tuck to end up with contour irregularities…at least my patients don’t. Will you travel back to Indonesia to get a revision? And, if you have it fixed here, doesn’t the surgeon who is repairing it deserve to be compensated for his or her time?

Personally, I had a patient several years ago that saw me in consult for a facelift. She said she could have it less expensively in her home country of Columbia; she spoke the language and had family there to help care for her. I thought I would never see her again. Several months later, she appeared in my office, unhappy with her result. I didn’t really feel that I could speak to what her foreign doctor had done, but told her about the results that I know I can provide with the procedure that I do, here, consistently, every day. She said she wanted a better look, and subsequently, asked me to re-do her entire facelift. After surgery, which she was more than pleased with by the way, I asked her how much money she spent on the original surgery, plus air, food, and housing etc…the same price as my good old fashion American face lift. And she got post-op care.

If medical tourism is something that you are considering, please look at all the variables…please ask for proof of credentials for the surgeon, anesthesia provider and the facility. Ask how long you should stay in country and what they will help you with as far as complications and revisions…and then carefully consider, how much easier it would be to maybe spend a couple hundred extra dollars to stay home and use a board certified, American trained surgeon, who is going to be around for the long haul, to take of care of you now and 5 years from now. Save your vacation for what it is meant for-vacation.
What is that old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”
Live well.