Before the pandemic curtailed international travel in early 2020, the popularity of medical tourism—traveling to another country for plastic surgery or medical treatments—was booming. An organization that tracks medical tourism estimated 2 million Americans traveled abroad in 2019 for healthcare—and cosmetic surgery was the primary reason.
The Price of Medical Tourism
Why do people seeking plastic surgery like a Mommy Makeover leave Los Angeles or other U.S. cities for surgery in an unfamiliar country? The answer, as you might expect, is typically cost.
The American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) points out that “price is the major selling point of cosmetic surgery tourism, with entire vacation/surgical packages costing less than individual procedures in the United States.”
Unfortunately, many patients fail to understand the risks involved in their decisions and end up paying a price—either monetarily or, more tragically, with serious health complications. With international travel opening up as pandemic-related restrictions ease, the number of patients traveling for cosmetic treatments is again rising.
The Risks of Medical Tourism
The resumption of medical tourism has been accompanied by stories of botched plastic surgery procedures, including from celebrities. An article that appeared last month in New Beauty documents the stories of 3 patients who traveled to Mexico for elective procedures. Two of them became ill, and the third woman died after getting tummy tuck surgery.
Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to find stories like these. People planning to travel outside of the U.S. for medical treatment, but especially elective cosmetic surgery, should conduct exhaustive research about the surgeon and prospective facility. Even then, it can be difficult to discern the accuracy of what you find online.
Considering Plastic Surgery Outside of the U.S.?
Here are some points you should consider before making a decision:
The “cheaper” option often winds up costing more: It’s natural that patients want to save money on plastic surgery procedures that typically cost several thousand dollars. But cutting corners can come with a cost of its own. Complications requiring additional treatment can quickly increase the price of a “bargain” plastic surgery procedure.
One study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the official journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, looked at the cost of treating complications for a group of 42 patients who underwent cosmetic surgery abroad. It found that that the average additional cost was more than $18,000 per patient. The study concluded, “Complications from patients seeking aesthetic procedures abroad will continue to increase.”
Less cost, higher risk: It’s often much more difficult to determine the training and experience of a surgeon in another country. Surgeons in the U.S. certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) meet rigorous standards requiring years of training. The risk of medical complications is significantly higher in many countries, where the training and experience required for certification often don’t match U.S. criteria.
What patients may not consider: Language barriers, traveling in an airplane after surgery, and ensuring a safe recovery after returning to the U.S. are significant issues that some patients downplay because of the low cost of surgery.
It’s critical that you are able to ask questions and understand the answers when talking to doctors and nurses. Air travel shortly after plastic surgery is not only uncomfortable but often involves standing or sitting for extended periods or carrying heavy luggage.
These situations can pose risks to the area where the surgery was performed and other complications.
Relying on social media: You should take posts on social media accounts such as Facebook and Instagram with numerous grains of salt. Find reliable sources online to determine a surgeon’s qualifications and track record for safety before making your choice. Even though skilled and qualified physicians are in practice throughout the world, it may be difficult to assess the training and credentials of surgeons outside of the United States.
Plastic Surgery is ‘Real’ Surgery
Because cosmetic plastic surgery is elective, some patients tend to make light of the nature of the procedures. This is especially true for procedures such as abdominoplasty (tummy tucks) and combination operations such as Mommy Makeovers. These are often the types of procedures that patients travel outside of the U.S. to get because they typically cost more than other cosmetic surgeries.
But we’ve all heard the cliché about getting what you pay for and, like most clichés, it’s usually true. A Mommy Makeover requires extensive training and experience to perform safely and effectively. The popular procedure combines a tummy tuck and liposuction with cosmetic breast surgery, such as breast augmentation or breast lift.
Follow-up appointments are essential to a complication-free recovery, and that’s why I encourage patients to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon in the U.S. for their procedures. You can see in this Instagram post the remarkable transformation that’s possible from a Mommy Makeover:
Our gallery of Mommy Makeover before-and-after photos offer many other examples.
Are You Considering Plastic Surgery Abroad?
If you are, I encourage you to consult first with a board-certified plastic surgeon in the Los Angeles area to learn more about the risks involved. You can contact our practice using the online form to request a consultation or call us at (310) 300-1779 to schedule an appointment.