Each year, thousands of Americans travel abroad for cosmetic surgery, enticed by very low surgical fees. Slick all-inclusive packages offer airfare, multiple cosmetic procedures, hotel accommodations, private duty nursing, and meals for one amazing low price. So hard to resist, especially when the cost is literally a fraction of cosmetic surgery fees charged here in the U.S. However, there are many reasons not to leave the country for your elective surgery. So what is Cosmetic Tourism, Gorgeous Getaway or Hellacious Holiday? Let's look at the facts.
The reason for the significant price discrepancy is because most of these cosmetic destinations are located in very poor countries where overhead and labor costs are minimal. Unfortunately, so are the laws, regulations and oversight of their surgeons and facilities! While there are qualified plastic surgeons in every country, it is difficult to locate those doctors and facilities that are safe. The surgeon's training, experience and track record are so important when selecting a doctor, here or abroad. Foreign vetting services can be shady, and are usually glorified tourism associations or travel agents.
Issues like substandard sterilization and/or protocols, resistant bacteria, counterfeit medications and nonexistent or ineffective regulation of doctors and/or facilities have led to numerous serious complications and even death. Recently, a 36 year old Atlanta resident died after liposuction and breast augmentation in her home country of Colombia.
Another matter is follow-up care. Most surgeons insist on stringent short-term, and when possible, long-term postoperative care to optimize chances for the best result. Complications like postoperative infection or healing issues occur in the best of hands, in the U.S. or abroad. The key to minimizing problems from complications is early recognition and action. Hard to accomplish when your surgeon is thousands of miles away.
Sometimes revisions are needed after cosmetic surgery to fine tune the result, correct minor asymmetry or fix problems caused by complications like infection or wound healing. It is usually necessary to wait at least 6 months before revision surgery can be tackled. Options include trekking back to the original surgeon or finding one nearby, creating new costs. Blood clots from the legs traveling to the lungs are an issue for all types of surgery. Numerous precautions are taken before and after operations because this complication can be life-threatening. Flying can increase the risk of blood clots. Flying after surgery, especially long distances, further increase those risks!
My Plastic Surgery practice is in NYC, gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. I have been called upon too many times to treat complications incurred during cosmetic tourism ranging from minor wound healing issues to devastating infections and questionable surgical technique. Treatment involved admission to the hospital, IV antibiotics, and surgery to correct deformities and asymmetry. Each individual I have treated was seduced by the low fees, and each one regretted their decision to travel abroad for their surgery. It is true that some people have journeyed abroad and enjoyed successful outcomes without problems or injury. The question you must ask yourself is this; is it worth the risk? Please do your homework!
About the Author:
Robert Tornambe, MD
Medical Advisor, Trueself
Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, Dr. Tornambe has been practicing plastic surgery for more than 25 years. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, was featured in NYMAG's "Best Doctors" issue, and was the Chief of Plastic Surgery at NYC's Cabrini Medical Center for 20 years.