Buyer Beware: Traveling for cosmetic surgery

By Dr. Sohel Islam

Each year, many people travel to Central and South America to undergo cosmetic procedures. The main motivation is to save money on these procedures. Some patients return to their country of origin and some travel to new destinations to have these procedures performed. Patients are lured in by glitzy websites and the promise of inexpensive surgery and easy recovery. However, many times, what is presented is not what is delivered.

Patients who are thinking about going abroad for surgery should consider several important factors prior to traveling for cosmetic surgery. The first and most important factor is safety during surgery. One of the reasons the cost of medical care is higher in the United States is because of the many safety measures required by state and federal authorities. These measures are designed to reduce the risk of anesthesia, post-operative infections and life threatening cardiovascular events. These safety measures are not required in many other countries. Many surgeons choose not to adopt these measures voluntarily, since it adds costs to the procedure.

Another problem involving traveling for surgery is that many patients book their return trip within a few days of the surgery. In most cases, patients are advised against flying for 2-5 weeks following major surgical procedures, mainly because of the increased risk of bleeding and blood clots. The heavy lifting associated with carrying bags is not recommended following most cosmetic surgical procedures, as this increase the risk of hematomas. In addition, the prolonged seated position involved in airline travel increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis following surgery. Finally, most travelers are at risk for dehydration, which can add to the risks of blood clots. These blood clots can be fatal if they are not treated in a prompt manner.

Further, most countries do not have the strict malpractice protections for patients that we enjoy in the United States. Patients who choose to go abroad for surgery need to understand that they do not have a way to recoup their costs for surgery and any pain and suffering due to the negligence of a surgeon. In addition, there are usually fewer governmental controls on licensure of surgeons in other countries. Physicians who are deemed to be impaired are stripped of their medical license by their state medical board. This is not the case in other countries.

The training programs for many surgeons in other countries are not as extensive as those in the United States. As a result, surgeons may not be as qualified as they are portrayed in their advertisements. In addition, it is difficult to evaluate the quality of a surgeon

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