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Plastic surgery tourism: Proceed with caution

Good plastic surgery happens not only in the USA, but also around the world. However, if you are an American citizen planning to travel out of the country for a short period of time to have an elective cosmetic procedure, caveat emptor.

In the USA, there are easy ways to vet your plastic surgeon. If you look for one through the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, you’ll assured of their members’ rigorous 5-8 years training after medical school, success on stringent examinations, certification by the American Board of Surgery, and continuing education.

It is difficult to judge a plastic surgeon’s credentials from thousands of miles away. Testimonials on a website and before-and-after photos are not foolproof. I have worked with excellent surgeons in many different countries, but I have also worked with poorly trained ones who practice plastic surgery in their country.

Low cost is the main attraction for going abroad. Why not get the procedure you’ve always wanted for a fraction of the cost in the USA, and sneak a little vacation? Here are the simple answers:

  1. Cheap plastic surgery can be very expensive. If the surgery doesn’t turn out as expected, a revision can be more costly than the original procedure done in the USA. I get calls from patients who had plastic surgery abroad. They’re frightened by redness or from pus oozing from their incision. Now they want help from me, the U.S. surgeon. But treating my own patient is much easier than treating someone when I have no idea what was done. The complications can result in major costs that the tourist-patients are unable or unwilling to pay. The Centers for Disease Control recently warned of atypical infections that are resistant to treatment, and they all stem from another country.
  2. Patients with minor problems requiring ongoing visits for weeks can be easily treated when the surgeon is in the same city or state. If the operating surgeon is out of town, a local colleague can provide care. A patient whose surgeon is thousands of miles away in a different country won’t have the same safety net. Unless her surgeon has local contacts, she may have difficulty finding someone willing to take on her care.
  3. Plastic surgery is a team effort. A plastic surgeon who cares about patient safety works with a board-certified anesthesiologist in an accredited operating facility with a well-trained surgical team to promote the best outcome. A patient I saw after she’d had surgery in another country was unhappy with her facelift and she had no recourse against her surgeon. She was particularly concerned that she’d lost a massive amount of blood during surgery, necessitating transfusion of several units of blood. Such a complication is extremely rare, and the patient was left with the gnawing question of what the blood bank standards were.

A well-researched foray abroad can have a happy outcome, but choosing to travel to have cheap surgery may lead to unanticipated and expensive problems.

Don’t settle for a bargain when it comes to your face or body.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


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