According to a recent survey, one in three people surveyed around the world say that they would travel to another country for cheaper cosmetic surgery. While tropical climates and discounted rates may seem appealing, sunshine and discounts are not worth the risks and dangers involved. It can be difficult to determine the training and credentials of surgeons practicing outside the U.S.
"It is a significant patient safety concern when consumers are having major surgical procedures performed by unqualified practitioners," says president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) Gregory Evans, MD. "There are no U.S. laws that protect patients or mandate the training and qualifications of physicians who perform plastic surgery outside of the U.S. There may be no legal recourse if surgical negligence by the physician or institution occurs."
The ASPS recommends considering the following when evaluating whether medical tourism is for you:
• Vacation-related activities may compromise patients' health. Although enticing, vacation activities should be avoided after surgery. Rest is required to properly heal and to reduce the possibility of complications.
• Cosmetic surgery is real surgery. At the highest level of care, every surgery, including cosmetic surgery, has some risks. Infections are the most common complication seen in patients that go abroad for cosmetic surgery.
• Travel combined with surgery significantly increases risk of complications. Individually, long flights or surgery can increase the potential risk of developing pulmonary embolism and blood clots. Traveling combined with surgery further increase the risk of developing these potentially fatal complications, in addition to, swelling and infection.
• Quality critical care facilities are not always available. In the event that an unanticipated complication should occur, a critical care facility equivalent to U.S. standards should be accessible. Such facilities are costly to operate and are frequently unavailable in locations that offer heavily discounted plastic surgery.
• Follow-up care and monitoring may be limited. Follow-up care and monitoring is an important part of any surgery. Cosmetic surgery vacation packages provide limited follow-up care, if any, once the patient returns to the United States. Patients who travel outside the U.S. for cosmetic surgery and experience a complication may find it hard to locate a qualified plastic surgeon to treat the problem or to provide revision surgeries. Local doctors may not know what surgical techniques the physician used in the initial operation, making treatment difficult or nearly impossible. Revision surgeries can be more complicated than the initial operation and patients rarely get the desired results.
• Bargain surgery can be costly. Patients can incur additional costs for revision surgeries and complications that may total more than the cost of the initial operation if originally performed in the U.S.
• Surgeon and facility qualifications may not be verifiable. In order for cosmetic surgery to be performed safely, it requires the proper administration of anesthesia, sterile technique, modern instrumentation and equipment, as well as properly trained surgeons. Vacation destinations may not have formal medical accreditation boards to certify physicians or medical facilities. Many facilities are privately owned and operated, making it difficult to check the credentials of surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical personnel.
• Devices and products used may not meet U.S. standards. Cosmetic surgery products or devices used in other countries may not have been tested, proven safe and effective, or been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, an implant used in the United States must meet standards of safety and effectiveness, a process regulated by the FDA. Other countries may not have similar regulations.
“All too often we see patients who think they will enjoy a vacation following plastic surgery abroad only to end up paying dearly for the surgeon's lack of training and expertise," Evans said. "These patients end up paying more in revision surgeries and time off work than if they had paid a bit more to see someone who was qualified to perform the procedure.”
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