If you are thinking of getting plastic surgery abroad, you may be gambling something more important than money. Are the risks really worth it? Consider:
“A Plea to Control Medical Tourism” in the medical journal Aesthetic Plastic Surgery speaks of a 31-year-old Swedish woman who responded to a web advertisement and went to Poland for a breast augmentation. The operation was performed in an old facility that bore little resemblance to the modern hospital pictured in the ad. The outcome?
As a result of the grave mistakes in anesthetic care and lack of a postoperative recovery routine, the patient sustained severe brain injury because of prolonged hypoxia [lack of oxygen]. Now, 6 months after the fateful operation the patient…has only vegetative functioning of the left side of the brain.
Many are enticed by websites and sales agents promising excellent plastic surgery results delivered by top-notch surgeons in well-equipped modern facilities at a fraction of the usual cost. Some get what they hoped for, but a significant number do not. Consider the following facts, then decide for yourself if cosmetic surgery abroad is worth the risk to you.
Potential for Serious Infections
“Plastic Surgery Abroad – Cost Savings at What Cost?” discussed warnings from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant infections from cosmetic surgery clinics in the Dominican Republic. Australian researchers reported that up to 70% of staph infections in some Asian countries are resistant to antibiotics commonly used to control them.
Anyone contemplating traveling to a developing country to save money on plastic surgery would do well to ask themselves:
If I’m thinking of traveling to a place where, “Don’t drink the water” is considered good advice, do I really want to have surgery there?
Minimal aftercare and follow-up
It’s also vital to consider that a successful procedure is more than just the time in the operating room. Your surgeon’s experience and technique are clearly very important to the result. However, the importance of aftercare and follow-up is often minimized or overlooked by the cosmetic surgery tourist.
You may be seen initially after surgery for the few days you are there, but what happens then? Healing is a variable that impacts your results, so how do you know you are healing the way you should? What do you do if there is a problem? Do you know what to look for?
In contrast, I see my facelift patients back typically the next day, then at a week, then at a month, then at 3, 6, and 12 months if everything is going perfectly. I am evaluating them at multiple stages of healing, to ensure they are on track for a great outcome and no problems arise. If there are healing issues, then I can address them quickly to minimize any impact, and see them more frequently as needed.
So, even if you have a world-class surgical team (which often appears in ads but doesn’t always show up in the operating room), the care you receive after your procedure can be crucial to getting the results you want. In fact, as my colleague Dr. Brian Machida discussed in “Facelift Disasters – Why They Happen and How to Avoid One,” poor healing is the reason for many “facelift nightmares” played up in the press.
Considering published studies on the quality of plastic surgery abroad, one finds a recurring theme: the lack of careful post-operative care. In The Real Cost of Cosmetic Tourism, an Australian medical team spoke of:
unconfirmed reports from our patients that they were seen [by their surgeons] together in groups. Postoperative follow-up is limited to the short period of time the patient spends in his or her holiday location.
Most who opt for plastic surgery abroad will not suffer the trauma that befell the Swedish woman related above. But think: When you’re spending a few days in a foreign country you cannot get the benefit of your surgeon’s follow-up care in the critical 30-90 days after surgery.
If you’re not healing well, instead of a doctor who intimately knows your case taking the needed actions, you may be out on your own. Or, forced to consult a facial plastic or plastic surgeon back home who will try to figure out what went wrong and correct it at additional cost. These are potential costs you may not have built into your decision on the cost effectiveness of overseas surgery.
Little legal recourse for malpractice
Researchers have observed that one of the main reasons that cosmetic surgery overseas can be done so cheaply is that many countries have few malpractice laws protecting patients. Doctors who save on low malpractice insurance premiums can attract patients with seemingly great deals.
Patients whose surgeons do an excellent job and who heal well can come away with an attractive new look at a bargain price. But if things don’t go as planned, let the buyer beware. You may have no legal recourse. And you could be forced to pay for corrective treatment out of your own pocket.
A classic bit of good sense
British sage John Ruskin wrote:
It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.
The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.
When it comes to cosmetic surgery, this is extremely wise advice. Think of plastic surgery as an investment in yourself. Don’t invest in deals that seem too good to be true without studying them…usually too good to be true is exactly that. You are your most important investment…invest carefully. Peace of mind that you are getting the care you need has great value…don’t overlook it. Be safe!