Dr. Joseph M. Perlman Advanced Plastic Surgery Centre

When Americans travel overseas, it is usually either for business or pleasure. Many American companies have offices overseas as well as foreign companies having offices here. In addition, tens of millions of Americans travel overseas for vacations. Another area that has seen an increase in overseas travel is medical procedures.

Americans, Canadians, and people from many European nations are seeking medical care in many disciplines overseas, for ease of access, but primarily for cost-saving measures, and sometimes to combine a vacation with a medical procedure. Over 1 million Americans traveled overseas for healthcare in 2008 and the number is expected to increase. Part of that increase is due to the fact that healthcare costs in the US continue to rise. As employers are looking for ways to contain healthcare costs, sending employees overseas for less expensive procedures is met with increasing interest. For Canadians and other patients from countries with socialized or government-based medical care, the long waiting lists are the impetus for seeking care overseas. As an example, almost 1,000,000 Canadians spent 10 weeks on average on a waiting list prior to surgery. The waiting list for joint replacement can be as long as six months.

Although cosmetic surgery is the first thing that comes to mind, cardiac and orthopedic surgery as well as dental procedures and fertilization procedures are becoming more popular overseas. Many patients have high out-of-pocket expenses when they have the procedure performed here. Knee replacement surgery in Colombia using FDA-approved prostheses cost $5000 including hospital stay. Cardiac surgery in India costs less than $15,000 including airfare, as opposed to as much as $200,000 in the US.
Over 50 countries now are destinations for patients seeking medical care. Many of these procedures are performed by physicians trained in the US who are highly skilled. I have seen patients, in follow-up, in my practice who had gone to Thailand for facelifts and I was quite impressed with the results. But as we all know “caveat emptor”, let the buyer beware.

There are travel agencies that specialize in medical tourism. The medical tourism provider will review your medical history and help you plan where to have your procedure done. They also arrange your medical consultation and surgery as well as travel and hotel arrangements. Because some patients will also use this as an opportunity to vacation, the travel agency will schedule side trips or a trip at the beginning or at the end of your medical visit.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has useful information on their website www.surgery.org, for patients seeking cosmetic surgery overseas and their recommendations should be followed for any medical procedure.

It’s important to note that the agency that you’re using is accredited. The Medical Tourism Association is an association whose members are top international hospitals, healthcare providers, medical travel facilitators, insurance companies, and other affiliated companies and members with the common goal of promoting the highest level of quality of healthcare to patients in a global environment.

It’s also important to know the qualifications of the surgeon and if he is a member of accredited international societies. For cosmetic surgery, the International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery is a good reference as well as being an affiliate member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). The qualifications of the anesthesia and nursing staff are also important. Make sure that you know who’ll be caring for you while you are there and who is financially responsible for secondary or additional procedures. This brings us to another big concern, that is, what recourse do you have if there is a complication and if the surgeon or the hospital staff have been negligent? In most situations, there is no recourse. You would be financially responsible for any revision work done once you return to the United States.

Lastly, you need to consider the country are actually going to. Many Americans go to Mexico for cosmetic surgery, but with the recent kidnappings and gang violence, this is a major concern for anyone going south of the border.