A relatively recent trend towards pursuing cosmetic surgery overseas, termed “medical tourism”, has come under increasing scrutiny due to the unforeseen consequences that those who choose this option need to consider.
The first and foremost consideration, as with any cosmetic surgical procedure, is safety. The standard of care that is adhered to in an accredited surgical facility and by a board certified plastic surgeon provides the patient with a level of assurance that the delivery of their treatment meets accepted criteria for safety. Consumers in the United States can verify these quality control certifications independently. Destinations that promote medical tourism may make claims of safety but those assertions are often difficult to authenticate. There also may be no local laws that mandate the level of physician training or facility performance that is found in our country.
Risks exist with every surgical procedure but certain complications may be more likely to occur when a long distance journey is involved. The possibility of developing blood clots that can travel to the lungs and cause serious problems is increased with long plane flights. Avoiding an infection requires sterility in the operating room and with the instruments that are used. The vigilance applied to oversight of this important aspect of surgery may be highly variable in some of the popular destinations for cosmetic surgery tourism.
The protections afforded by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations of surgical devices and products such as breast implants does not extend to foreign countries. Local regulations may not be as stringent in requiring proof of safety and efficacy.
Safaris and tropical beach activities are often marketed as part of a destination cosmetic surgery package. Although in theory this may sound very appealing, proper healing and avoidance of complications such as infection may be compromised by such post-operative pursuits.
Finally, the bargain pricing that draws some patients to seek cosmetic procedures in other countries may not be the cost-saving decision it appears to be initially. There is often little or no recourse if an unsatisfactory result or complication occurs. The additional expense of revision procedures may inflate the final cost to more than that of a surgery performed by a board certified plastic surgeon in the United States.