Is Medical Tourism Safe?

he practice of going abroad for surgery—“medical tourism,” as many call it—has become increasingly popular in recent years for obvious reasons: it can be less expensive to have procedures performed outside of the U.S., it’s an excuse to go on vacation, and taking a couple of weeks off for your trip (depending on the procedure) can give you the opportunity to heal before returning back to real life. Unfortunately, however, medical tourism is not all fun in the sun. According to a recent study performed by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), many patients who have been lured abroad by promises of low-cost surgeries have ended up experiencing complications afterward. Of the 368 board-certified plastic surgeons who responded to the ISAPS’s survey, more than 50% said they had seen a number of patients who presented with complications after having plastic surgery performed outside the country—and that more than half of those patients subsequently had to undergo multiple follow-up surgeries in order to address the issue.

The most common complication plastic surgeons see in medical tourism patients—31% of cases reported—is infection. Other complications, such as dehiscence (wounds reopening at the suture lines), contour abnormality, and hematoma, are often encountered as well; and not only can these problems put your health and life in danger, they can also be quite expensive to remedy. Whatever money you might save by going abroad for a procedure, you’ll spend more than that if complications arise—especially since most insurance plans won’t cover many of the corrective procedures that may be required to fix them.

At the end of the day, being informed is the most important way that patients can protect themselves. If you’re considering medical tourism, make sure you learn about the importance of outcomes and the risk of complications first. If a procedure isn’t available in the U.S., maybe there’s a good reason that it hasn’t yet been approved here; and if a deal seems too good to be true . . . maybe it is.