Medical tourism—traveling to another country for health care services—landed in the news again earlier this year with the kidnapping in Mexico of 4 Americans, including one person who was in the country to get a tummy tuck. Two of the victims were killed. Becoming a victim of violence is an extreme example of the risks associated with traveling to another country for plastic surgery, but it’s not the only concern.
Facilities outside the U.S. may not be accredited, for example, and the medications, products, and medical devices used in foreign countries typically don’t undergo the same rigorous scrutiny and regulatory oversight as they do in the United States. Counterfeit, expired, or improperly stored drugs are other issues. Finally, many of the providers don’t have the same training or experience as plastic surgeons in the U.S. who are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).
How Popular Is Medical Tourism?
The number of Americans traveling to Mexico for elective medical treatments is rapidly approaching its pre-pandemic levels when 1.2 million people traveled south of the border for plastic surgery, dental procedures, or nonsurgical cosmetic treatments. According to Healthcare.com, nearly 780,000 people left the U.S. for health care in 2022.
Mexico is the most popular destination for patients seeking to save money on their procedures, with Costa Rica the second-leading choice. This is according to a group called Patients Beyond Borders, which publishes a guide to international medical travel. Other popular destinations include Turkey, Tunisia, the Dominican Republic, and the Czech Republic.
What To Consider Before Booking Cosmetic Surgery in Another Country
The vast majority of U.S. citizens who travel to another country for elective cosmetic surgery do so to save money. There is no doubt that traveling for surgery may save someone thousands of dollars, even when factoring in the cost of travel. While there is some risk inherent with plastic surgery, no matter where it’s performed, medical tourism is associated with a heightened risk of complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the unique dangers associated with medical tourism include:
Flying in a pressurized plane cabin increases the risk of blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli. This is especially true for patients undergoing procedures associated with a mommy makeover, such as a tummy tuck and liposuction. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) also advises people who have had cosmetic procedures on the face, eyelids, or nose or laser treatments to wait 7 to 10 days before flying.
If you travel for cosmetic surgery and then experience complications after you return home, you’ll have to find another provider who can diagnose and treat the problem. The ASPS notes that some patients even end up spending more than anticipated if complications arise. And even if you don’t experience complications, consider the costs of having a second surgery to revise unsatisfactory results.
Researching Plastic Surgeons
Choosing a plastic surgeon is a critical decision. In the U.S., it’s relatively easy to check if a plastic surgeon is board certified and research their training and credentials. That’s not necessarily true in other countries, which may be less transparent. Relying on social media has its own pitfalls.
Weigh Benefits vs. Risks
If you’re considering plastic surgery but don’t know if you can afford it in the U.S., make sure you research thoroughly before choosing to travel outside the country. At our practice, we offer financing to help patients spread payments out so plastic surgery is accessible to more people. Even though it’s a cliché, remember that you can’t put a price on your health.
If you’re in the Columbia area and considering cosmetic plastic surgery, whether you’re from Ellicott City, Baltimore, MD, or beyond, you can request a consultation using the online form. You can also contact our two convenient offices by phone at (410) 884-4200 (Ellicott City) or (410) 751-2348 (Westminster).