Medical tourism is a hot button issue for many reasons, in part because it is often portrayed on reality television shows. Viewers often see either a perfect vacation with surgery on the side, or the horror stories of patients struggling after a botched plastic surgery procedure in an overseas clinic. That’s the dark side of the medical tourism industry.
It’s estimated that each year more than 750,000 Americans travel outside the United States for healthcare to places like Mexico, India and Iran for procedures at a bargain rate, including plastic surgery. Board certfied plastic surgeons Dr. Mark D. Epstein of Hauppauge, New York and Dr. Anup Patel of Orlando share their thoughts on medical tourism and if it’s actually in decline.
Medical Tourism Business
Medical tourism is big business. According to estimates, consumers spend about $20 billion a year on medical tourism. Even with that significant interest, some experts are noticing a downward shift. There are patients who are starting to realize that a ‘cheaper’ surgery isn’t always worth what may be inherent risks in the long run. Some analysts are seeing and predicting a decline in the medical tourism industry as consumers grow more cautious. “Medical tourism was a big problem. It’s still a big problem,” shares Dr. Patel. “I think there has been at least a reduction in it.”
He thinks consumers are starting to listen to the warnings issues by the plastic surgery industry for years advising consumers to seek out a board certified surgeon. “Social media and companies that market these places now understand that board certification is a big deal. It’s what really helps with patient safety.”
No Bargain Surgery
Medical tourism is attractive to some consumers because a plastic surgery procedure can be less expensive overseas – sometimes half the price. Some countries are even working to attract medical tourism ‘tourists’ with flashy resort packages to recover offshore. Even with all the glitz, glamour and pampering, it’s always a good idea to consider your options when it comes to your body.
“What many consumers don’t realize is that a short term, cheap fix surgery might cost them much more in the long run if they have complications,” said Patel. He says it’s never wise to ‘bargain shop’ when it comes to your body. “They may not be getting the results they want when it comes to something important like health.”
The Pitfalls of Medical Tourism
Supporters of the medical tourism industry claim the negative feedback is unwarranted and overblown. The international non-profit called Medical Tourism Association objects to the idea that consumers are getting lower quality medical care overseas. A spokesperson believes the medical care overseas is as good or possibly better than in a patient’s home country. There are quality physicians around the world, but skeptics point out that with most medical tourism consumers are forced to ‘book’ procedures online and that limits interaction with the actual surgeon.
“In most cases of medical tourism, it’s a website connection. You make some kind of kind of financial arrangement and you fly down,” shares Dr. Epstein. Epstein says a face-to-face meeting might not happen until right before a procedure. “No one has examined you and gone over you in a medical way and then you’re expected to have the surgery.” He says patients feel pressured into having the operation in a facility that might not be up to the same standards as a clinic or hospital in the United States.
Sometimes the results can be expensive or even tragic if there are complications. “The safety and infection controls are not the same. Many of us are seeing patients with infections and other problems who are coming back to us and that’s unfortunate. It just shouldn’t happen.” said Epstein.
In conclusion, the worries about safety are more important than the desire for the procedure (for less money) and the abilities of any given surgeon. Even in the best surgical hands, complications can happen. If this occurs, it’s better to be down the street from home than thousands of miles away at a foreign beach resort.