Traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery could save money. But you could get more than you bargained for…
Editor’s Note: Dr. Elizabeth Whitaker, MD, FACS is a double board certified and fellowship trained in facial plastic surgery. Dr. Whitaker has served as Chief of Facial Plastic Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia.
TIME Magazine (July, 2016) reported that roughly 750,000 Americans travel abroad every year for medical care, often to have plastic surgery at reduced rates. While there are many countries with proficient facial plastic and plastic surgeons, not all countries have the same standards required of surgeons or facilities in the U.S. It is critical to know what you are getting. Specifically, a number of countries have sought to target and capture “medical tourism” business by constructing modern medical facilities along with marketing campaigns and appealing websites.
Websites and sales agents can make some very attractive promises. Many “plastic surgery tourists” believe that they will end up with great-looking results provided by top-notch surgeons at a fraction of the cost they would have paid in the U.S. Sometimes that’s exactly what they get. But, as a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed, sometimes plastic surgery tourists get more than they bargained for.
Serious Infection Hazard
Antiseptic procedures that we take for granted in the United States are not always practiced abroad. Note the facts that appeared in the CDC report “Multistate US Outbreak of Rapidly Growing Mycobacterial Infections Associated with Medical Tourism to the Dominican Republic, 2013–2014:”
21 patients from 6 states returned from trips for plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic with serious, aggressive bacterial infections. The CDC described the bacteria involved as “notoriously antimicrobial drug resistant and difficult to treat.” 8 patients had to be hospitalized on their return to America (5 on two separate occasions). 9 patients required therapeutic surgical procedures to treat their infections. 10 of the 21 patients reported that their illness had caused them financial problems…For two that included the inability to work.
Four patients reported that their health insurer had declined to cover some of the costs of their medical treatment needed to fight their persistent infections. 8 of the 21 patients had not yet fully recovered 9 months after their overseas plastic surgery “vacations.”
When British woman Joy Williams went into the SP Clinic in Bangkok last October, she must have believed she was about to undergo a straightforward cosmetic operation, at a very reasonable price, and at a modern facility which has been widely used, and often praised, by other patients from overseas.
But her wounds became infected, and she died under anaesthetic as the clinic tried to correct what had gone wrong. Her doctor, Sompob Sansiri, has been charged with recklessly causing her death, and the SP Clinic closed down. It turned out he was not licensed to carry out surgery.
But even those who are properly licensed to perform cosmetic surgery may not measure up to the same standards required of surgeons in the U.S., Great Britain, and a few other countries. Being a licensed cosmetic surgeon in another country does not mean a physician has the same training or practice standards required of board-certified plastic or facial plastic surgeons in America or the same facility standards.
In The Dark Side of Medical Tourism in Thailand, the BBC shows the modern facilities and quality surgeons that attract patients from around the world. But it also shows the difficulties that can occur when the procedure’s results don’t live up to patients’ expectations:
It is rare for hospitals in Thailand to be successfully sued for medical malpractice, and even rarer for the courts to award significant damages. That helps explain why doctors there pay much less for insurance than in Europe or the US, which in turn explains why medical costs are much lower.
Plastic surgery is usually quite safe. But complications can develop, especially with multiple procedures. An extensive study of cosmetic surgery tourism conducted by four universities found another major problem: a lack of post-operative care. One group of patients from the UK, promised cheaper plastic surgery in “the Mediterranean,” found themselves in a hospital in Tunisia that was also treating patients horribly injured in Libya’s civil war. The translator they were promised was not available. The report states:
After three days both surgeons departed with suitcases full of cash, the only payment method they accepted…The agent departed shortly afterwards, despite protests from Sally (one of the patients), telling us that Sally needed “tough love, “ leaving her in the care of her two fellow travelers and the (non-English speaking) hospital and hotel staff.
A better way to save on plastic surgery?
Prizewinning author Kurt Vonnegut observed, “In this world, you get what you pay for.” More times than not, this has proved true. And while it is certainly possible to travel abroad and obtain good plastic surgery at a bargain price, the foregoing examples show that it is also very possible to come home disappointed, perhaps seriously infected. Even if the surgery itself goes well, minor complications may necessitate additional travel or expense that you did not count on.
A number of highly experienced expert plastic and facial plastic surgeons provide outstanding results at very affordable rates here in America. Some of those doctors publish articles on LookYounger.News.
Before booking a trip into the unknown, why not contact one of these surgeons here in the United States, where training, licensure and experience can be much more easily verified and facilities are highly regulated. For instance, I provide a complimentary night in a hotel for patients traveling to Atlanta Face and Body so they can meet with me the day prior to their procedure. Visiting exotic places is fine for vacation, but when it comes to your health, don’t take chances!