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Douglas A. Taranow, DO, FACOS

New York, NY


Posted May 01, 2019 in Medical Tourism

Cosmetic surgery can turn out to be very expensive if the procedure isn’t covered by regular insurance. For some people, the appeal of traveling to a nearby foreign country to get the same procedure at a fraction of the price is often too much to resist. The CDC estimates that thousands of Americans travel abroad for medical procedures every year, including plastic surgery.

But the dangers of medical tourism cannot be ignored. Medical tourism has been shown to carry increased risks, such as the chance of poor care or other health hazards. What’s more, patients will often find themselves without much recourse if emergency help is needed and they are in another country. It can be tempting to fly out and get that facelift you’ve wanted for a much lower price—but it may not be worth the cost to your health.

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Why People Seek Medical Tourism

There are several factors that result in patients seeking medical care abroad every year. Some of these factors include:

  • Significantly cheaper care or procedures offered
  • Treatments or procedures that may not be available in the US
  • Receive care in a “more familiar” environment (i.e., returning to home country for surgery)

The Risks of Medical Tourism

For many patients, the benefits of medical tourism may seemingly outweigh the risks. Cosmetic surgery procedures offered in other countries may sometimes be thousands of dollars cheaper than in the U.S., so it’s not difficult to see why the industry is booming. But patients could instead be setting themselves up for heartbreak if something goes wrong.

Some of the risks of medical tourism include:

Poor care quality: Simply put, the patient may find that the quality of the cosmetic care received in another country is not up to par. This often leads to years of revision surgery, which typically leads to much more money spent overall.

Problems with communication: Language barriers may contribute to misunderstandings that could be detrimental to patients’ health.

Blood clots from flights: Long flights after surgery increase the chances of pulmonary embolism and blood clots.

Lack of regulation: Because medical tourism involves other nations, there is little to no regulation on what procedures a patient may receive, as there is no FDA (or other governmental agencies) to monitor medications, surgical training, or surgery center certifications. In fact, some patients specifically seek procedures not offered in the US. But this lack of regulation could lead to patients getting much riskier care.

Little to no legal recourse: If something goes wrong during a procedure in another country, a patient may be left with little to nothing to do about it. There are no laws that protect patients from the dangers of care abroad, especially if the patient did not purchase any travel or health insurance before heading out of the country.

Difficulty with follow-up care in the United States: Many physicians refuse to treat patients who have undergone surgical procedures abroad. There is also difficulty treating infections by uncommon bacteria found outside the US.

Counterfeit Breast Implants: Many patients believe they are receiving genuine breast implants and find out later that the implants placed were not authentic.

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Medical Tourism: How to Minimize Risks

Patients are encouraged to try to seek care in the US, but if medical tourism proves to be the best option, there are some things you can do to decrease the risks involved. Make sure you check with your regular doctor and let them know about what you plan to do and where you plan to do it. In addition, give yourself plenty of time to deeply research the country and surgeons you’re considering. Check their qualifications by using lists of standards available from accrediting groups such as the International Society for Quality in Healthcare. Patients are also strongly encouraged to look into travel and health insurance policies specifically designed to address some forms of medical tourism.

Medical tourism may be a good option to get cosmetic surgery that could otherwise be out of reach, but it’s important to understand the risks involved. Surgeons in the US, such as Dr. Taranow, can provide the results you want without many of the risks of heading abroad.

See what Dr. Taranow can offer you in cosmetic care. Schedule a consultation soon by calling our office at 212-772-2100