Plastic Surgery Abroad….Buyer Beware

Before I go any further, I would like to state that there are some excellent plastic surgeons not only in New York City and other states in the United States, but there are many in other countries as well. For example, South America has long been at the forefront of cosmetic surgery with many of the latest body contouring procedures originating in countries like Brazil. 

Ok, now we can continue….. 

Medical tourism has been increasing in recent years. This involves Americans traveling to other countries for cosmetic surgery. The majority are not traveling for the expertise of the doctors. Rather, they are traveling for the lower prices. Despite the tough economy, cosmetic surgery procedures have declined only a small amount. People still want their surgeries but want to pay less for them.

There are several reasons why cosmetic surgery prices are lower in other countries. The cost of rent, medicines and medical equipment is lower. Also, the lower cost of living means that the doctor is able to pay lower salaries to his nurses and support staff.  Doctors in other countries may also not be obligated to carry expensive malpractice insurance so they can save upwards of $60,000 annually  in premiums .  This all means that the doctors have a significantly lower ‘overhead,” allowing them to charge much lower fees, while making the same (or more) profit as in the United States.

So, why is this a concern?  As I said in the beginning, there are some excellent surgeons abroad, however, even the best surgeons have complications.  Oftentimes, the complications do not occur immediately. Signs of infection and poor wound healing may take a week or more to become obvious. Also, while American doctors often complain about the amount of rules and regulations that govern our offices and operating facilities, they are in place to protect you, the patient. These rules and regulations do not exist in many other countries.

Most people who have plastic surgery abroad, stay for about 7 days. This means that many of the complications only become obvious when they are back home, thousands of miles away.  If complications occur, there may be no way of contacting the operating surgeon, and even if there is, it may be logistically or financially impossible to travel back to the place of surgery for evaluation.

People with complications often have no where to go except the local emergency room.  It is not uncommon for me to be called to the emergency room to evaluate a complication in a person who had surgery abroad.  Dealing with these complications can be difficult because I have no way of knowing exactly what was done during the surgery (usually there is not a detailed discharge summary or operative report that is standard after surgeries in the United States). Also, because bacteria vary from country to country, a post-operative infection may be the result of bacteria that is not common in the United States and the correct choice of antibiotic may be difficult.  I obviously do what I can to help these patients but there is a financial consideration as insurance will not cover complications from an elective cosmetic surgery. If the person requires hospitalization or revisional surgery, the cost can often be more than the original surgery!

So, there are thousands and thousands of people who successfully get cosmetic surgery in other countries and have excellent results.  But, there are also some very serious complications that occur as well.  I understand the desire (or need) to compare prices.  Price should not be your only criteria selecting your doctor. There are excellent doctors with competitive prices here in the United States, including New York City. While these prices may not be as low as in other countries, the extra cost will be worthwhile if you are unfortunate enough to have a complication.  Cosmetic surgery is still an invasive surgical procedure with inherent risks.  You need to do your homework and protect yourself.  In the end, the few thousand dollars in savings may not be worth the extra risk you exposing yourself to.

If you are interested in a cosmetic plastic surgery procedure, contact my New York City Office today to schedule a consultation.

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