Medical tourism is a popular notion across many healthcare specialties. Whether it’s a dental procedure or things as serious as orthopedic and even cardiovascular procedures, many patients take advantage of cheaper medical services in other countries and pair it with a vacation to save money. Cosmetic procedures are no different; patients seek out far cheaper procedure costs in foreign countries, usually in places that are traveled for vacation.
Perhaps the newest version of cosmetic medical tourism sets sail on cruise lines. Veteran plastic surgeons Dr. Kevin Smith and Dr. Sean Doherty discuss the safety and efficacy of medical tourism, explaining why even something as “simple” as a Botox injection in the cruise ship spa is not a wise decision.
“Small” Cosmetic Procedures are Still Medical Procedures
While many medical tourism procedures involve the OR and actual surgeons, there are many procedures that can be done in an office without general anesthesia and surgery. Notably, these include Botox and filler injections, as well as a slew of newer non-surgical devices that seek to tighten and/or resurface facial skin. Laser technology has advanced to be less invasive with some devices, allowing less “serious” medical practices to offer these services to curious patients. Apparently, cruise ship spas have gotten the memo.
“This is medical tourism, except in transit,” shares Dr. Kevin Smith, a board certified plastic surgeon from Charlotte. “How can [patients] be on a cruise and think it’s a good idea to get an injection that involves needles? It involves needles, there could be bruising and [other] complications, wouldn’t that ruin their vacation? If they have a complication, do they have facilities there to take care of things?”
Smith is referring to sides of “easy procedures” that patients – and, more importantly, marketers – tend to leave off the sale sheet. Something as “easy” as a Botox injection can still cause complications. At minimum, depending on the skill of the injector, they certainly can cause bruising and swelling. Is this really what a cruise line guest wants to pay for while on vacation, hours from hitting a Caribbean beach?
“I’ve actually had several patients come to me after these experiences,” begins Dr. Doherty, a board certified plastic surgeon in Boston. “Specifically, I had a lovely woman in her 60s who had come from a cruise and ended up having a laser procedure. It was a non-ablative laser – a surfacing procedure – and an excellent procedure for her and her face, but clearly not something to be done at a time when she is going to be exposed to sun. It’s also something that needed to be done multiple times. She spent money and did something that didn’t really return a significant response. I think she was really sold something that wasn’t necessary.”
Non-Surgical Does Not Mean Simple
The Plastic Surgery Channel has often written about the dangers of going cheap on non-surgical procedures. Botox, CoolSculpting, and, as Dr. Doherty mentioned, even some laser devices can be purchased and offered by a swath of “medical” practices that are far removed from traditional plastic surgery. OBGYNs, family doctors, and even dentists now offer Botox, in addition to their other services. Why? Botox and non-surgical procedures are a lucrative business.
But just because injecting Botox seems simple doesn’t mean that it is. Board certified plastic surgeons take their patients and assess them individually, a necessary component of achieving maximal results. Perhaps a patient comes in requesting Botox – looking for a quick fix – but the surgeon may assess that what they really need is a laser. They will then decide which laser, and how many times it may be required to affect desired results. This treatment plan is critical not only to results, but to getting the best bang for your buck.
“So many of the aesthetic services we have that are non-surgical – injections, lasers, broad-based light therapy – require a treatment plant, and a treatment plan occurs over time,” shares Dr. Smith. “When a patient engages in a treatment plant, it’s all about developing a relationship with their practitioner. These are not things that can be done in isolation, like on a cruise for a week.”
So while a top-of-the-line cruise ship may offer a tremendously impressive spa with a list of safe and effective cosmetic treatments, are the practitioners really performing what’s best for the patient following an individual assessment? Or have they simply constructed a menu for guests to choose from?
“[These procedures] are not something you can pick off a menu and say, ‘I’m ordering Botox and filler,’ because it’s such an individual thing,” details Doherty. “And that’s how we take care of our patients, individually.”
At the end of the day, any and every cosmetic procedure is still a procedure. Considering the money involved, and that the procedures typically involve the face, it’s important for would-be patients to select an expert for both safety and results.