Woman in airport traveling for plastic surgery abroad

As a plastic surgeon committed to your safety and health, discussing the risks associated with plastic surgery tourism is crucial. While the allure of lower costs and a quick getaway can be tempting, the consequences are often not part of the advertised package.

Recent studies have highlighted alarming trends in plastic surgery tourism, finding that many patients who opt for elective procedures abroad face severe complications due to inadequate preoperative evaluation and lack of postoperative care. I’ve personally treated numerous patients who have undergone cosmetic surgery in Mexico or South America, only to develop serious complications once they return home.

Moreover, the financial implications can be stark. According to a 2011 study, complications from international surgery tourism can drastically increase mortality rates, raising concerns about the postoperative support available to these patients. Additionally, 2018 data published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery emphasizes the risk of postoperative infections, often due to substandard conditions and practices at some international facilities. Another 2021 study detailed the high costs and health risks that follow cosmetic surgery tourism, including unnecessary diagnostic tests and treatments upon return, which often lead to inflated medical bills far exceeding the initial savings.

Opting for plastic surgery is a significant decision that should prioritize safety and quality care. The potential risks of undergoing procedures abroad, ranging from severe complications to the hidden costs of follow-up care, make it a gamble with your health. As professionals adhering to the American Board of Plastic Surgeons‘ code of ethics, we must ensure your safety and provide the highest standard of care.

Let’s make informed choices prioritizing health and safety by investing in high-quality and comprehensive care.

Comparing the Costs of Medical Tourism 

Many people are tempted by the lower upfront costs advertised by clinics abroad when considering plastic surgery. Domestically, the cost of plastic surgery might appear higher, but it typically includes comprehensive preoperative and postoperative care, which is crucial for a safe and effective outcome.

Internationally, while the surgical procedure might be cheaper, additional costs often arise. These include travel expenses, accommodation, and potential follow-up treatments for complications, which are more common when surgeries are performed abroad under less stringent medical standards. A study published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal noted that patients returning from surgery abroad often face hefty expenses for emergency care, corrective procedures, and longer-term health issues not covered by insurance. The hidden costs can include loss of income during extended recovery periods or due to long-term health issues resulting from complications.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Legally, patients might find themselves in precarious positions if complications arise. Countries have varying medical practice and legal recourse standards, making it challenging to seek justice or compensation in malpractice cases. The issue of consent is also critical, as surgeons must fully inform patients about the risks involved; however, the standard of informed consent varies significantly between countries.

Ethically, the practice raises questions about exploiting medical practitioners and patients. Some argue that it contributes to a brain drain in developing countries, where talented surgeons focus on serving foreign patients at the expense of local populations. Additionally, the moral dilemma of patients potentially receiving subpar care due to language barriers or cultural misunderstandings compromises patient safety and outcomes.

Navigating these legal and ethical issues requires international cooperation and stringent regulation to protect patients and medical professionals in plastic surgery tourism.

Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: A Potentially Dangerous Fad

Cosmetic surgery tourism, driven by lower prices, has grown significantly in the past decade. Some companies now offer vacation packages with cosmetic procedures accessible via the Internet. These packages often seem attractive as they promise substantial savings, combining holiday experiences with medical treatments at lower-than-domestic prices.

While the allure of less expensive surgery might be tempting, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) warns of the risks involved. Verifying the qualifications and credentials of surgeons and facilities abroad is often challenging. This lack of verifiable standards can lead to severe complications, unsatisfactory results, and increased patient health risks.

Health Risks of Getting Plastic Surgery Abroad

Combining surgery with vacation activities poses additional health risks. Post-surgery, engaging in activities like sunbathing, swimming, flying, or extensive touring can severely impact healing and increase the likelihood of complications. Traveling for surgery also multiplies the risk of serious complications such as infections, pulmonary embolism, and blood clots due to prolonged immobility on long flights. To mitigate these risks, the ASPS advises patients to wait a significant amount of time post-surgery before flying.

Lack of Follow-Up Care

Another critical issue is the limited availability of follow-up care once a patient returns home. Patients who experience complications find it difficult to receive proper treatment, as local doctors might be unfamiliar with the surgical techniques used abroad. Implant devices that may have warranty coverage in the United States often have different coverage overseas. Additionally, revision surgeries usually result in higher costs and less satisfactory outcomes.

Inconsistent Regulation for Facility Safety Worldwide

Patients should also be wary of the facilities and devices used in foreign clinics. Many international facilities need more rigorous accreditation, and the medical devices used may not meet specific safety standards, potentially increasing the risk of adverse outcomes. Global standards and regulations in plastic surgery aim to ensure patient safety and high-quality care. Organizations like the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) and JCI work to harmonize these standards, but regulations vary dramatically between countries. Developed nations typically have stringent requirements for medical training, facility accreditation, and procedural safety. In contrast, standards in developing countries may be lax, posing increased patient risks. Understanding the country’s regulatory environment where you plan to undergo surgery is crucial for ensuring that the standards of care meet international benchmarks.

Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Safety Guidelines and Checklists

Considering plastic surgery abroad? Here is a checklist to help ensure your safety:

  1. Verify Your Surgeon’s Credentials: Ensure the surgeon is board-certified in plastic surgery and has a good track record.
  2. Research the Facility: Look for accreditations from internationally recognized healthcare bodies like the Joint Commission International (JCI).
  3. Understand Your Procedure: Be fully aware of the surgery, including all potential risks and outcomes.
  4. Plan for Follow-Up Care: Arrange how follow-up care will be handled before surgery.
  5. Get Insured: At our practice in Flagstaff, Arizona, we insure all of our cosmetic patients. That way, if medical complications arise, they have additional coverage for hospital stays and further procedures. This gives patients peace of mind. While traveling, make sure to have travel insurance. You won’t be left with a hefty bill if you need to go to a hospital for any reason after your procedure for additional care. 
  6. Prepare for Emergencies: Know what to do and who to contact in case of complications.
  7. Consider Language Barriers: Ensure you can communicate effectively with your medical team or have reliable translation services available.
  8. Check Legal Recourse Options: Understand your legal rights in the host country and what to do if something goes wrong.

Alternatives to Plastic Surgery Tourism

If you want to make some cosmetic enhancements, there are safer alternatives to surgery tourism:

  • Accredited Domestic Facilities: Opt for accredited facilities that follow stringent health and safety protocols, like our Northern Arizona Surgery Center in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Financing Options: Many domestic clinics offer financing plans that make procedures more affordable without sacrificing safety. We offer our patients a couple of different six- and 12-month interest-free financing plan options.
  • Non-Surgical Treatments: Consider less invasive options, such as fillers, lasers, and other treatments that carry fewer risks and require less downtime.
  • Find A Qualified Plastic Surgeon: Did you know anyone with a medical degree can call themselves an “aesthetic” or “cosmetic” surgeon without surgical training? By contrast, I completed medical school, plus a one-year internship residency in general surgery and six additional years of plastic surgery residency. To find a qualified plastic surgeon who will prioritize your safety and has completed the mandatory training to perform the complex procedures we do, look for a board-certified plastic surgeon near you via the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website.

Book A Consultation Today

Our award-winning, board-certified plastic surgeons specialize in an extensive range of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Book a consultation today at our Flagstaff, Sedona, Cottonwood, Prescott Valley, or Kingman, Arizona offices.

Author Profile: Brian Cripe, M.D., is an award-winning, board-eligible plastic and reconstructive surgeon proudly working with the Plastic Surgeons of Northern Arizona practice. Dr. Cripe specializes in cosmetic surgery, limb salvage, peripheral nerve microsurgery, hand surgery, and oncologic reconstructive procedures. He has performed over 5,000 surgical cases during his nine-year tenure as a surgeon.

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