Medical tourism – is it safe?

Medical Tourism Medical tourism is a fairly hot concept right now.  This involves travelling for surgery, often in an exotic location, and often at a significantly reduced price.  The U.S. is not the only country whose citizens  travel abroad for surgery.  In some countries with socialized medicine it may take over a year to get a hip replacement, for example.  People just can’t wait and look elsewhere.

As far as cosmetic surgery is concerned, the cost savings of a procedure is the major push towards medical tourism.

But is medical tourism for plastic surgery safe?

There are several reasons why travelling abroad for plastic surgery may be dangerous.

1)  There are many excellent plastic surgeons in other countries, no doubt.  In the U.S. there are also several bad plastic surgeons as well as physicians untrained in plastic surgery doing these procedures.  Fortunately, finding a good plastic surgeonin the U.S. is not a mystery, as it may be in another country.  Look for board certification (by the American Board of Plastic Surgery) and membership of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.  There are no untrained physicians in this society.  In another country it may be much more difficult finding a qualified doctor.

2)  The safety standards are significantly more stringent in the U.S. than in most other countries.

3)  The follow up visits may be compromised by difficulty with travel.  A problem may not be recognized.

4)  Language barriers may impair effective communication.  You may not be getting exactly what you think you are.

5)  Long trans-continental flights immediately after surgery can increase the risk of blood clots in the legs.  This is one of the most dangerous post-operative complications that can occur.

6)  Some bacteria uncommon in the U.S. are common in other countries.  Travellers diarrhea and other travel related infections can add significant risk to the procedure.

7)  Revisional surgery is much more complicated than the original surgery and often more costly.  For example, you could find that in saving $2000 for your breast augmentation in Mexico, the cost for revision of a complication exceeds $10,000.

My advice is look at other options locally for cost savings

There may be some areas near your location, within the U.S. where the cost of plastic surgery is relatively cheap.   For example, I have many patients who travel from the west (particularly California, Nevada, Wyoming, and Idaho) to my office in Utah.  It is close enough to avoid long travels and to be able to keep up with the standard follow up schedule.  The cost saving for some of these patients may be 25 – 50%.  Not as cheap as Mexico of course, but still a significant saving.

Cosmetic surgery is elective surgery.  There is no rush.  The results (good or bad) can be permanent.  Do not make a poor decision to travel overseas for plastic surgery, there is just too much to loose.

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