Plastic surgery tourism, that is, traveling to a foreign country to have plastic surgery, is a terrible idea!
Recently I had a fellow physician ask me about the cost of a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) here in the U.S. vs. in the Dominican Republic. And I realized: If someone in the medical field doesn’t realize how dangerous Plastic surgery tourism can be, then there’s no way the average consumer knows either. And that brings us to my topic today.
Common travel destinations.
Both the Dominican Republic (DR) and Mexico are common travel destinations for consumers looking for cheap Plastic surgery. You may ask: what’s the harm if someone wants to put themselves at risk to save a buck?
Simply put, Plastic surgery tourism is a drain on the US healthcare system. An article in Newsweek from March, 2018 reviewed this very topic. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s hospital looked at 78 patients who travelled for surgery, most of which went to the DR. Tummy tuck and breast augmentation had the most complications. Problems included infections, hernias, pain, and wound healing issues.
(On a side note, infections, pain, and wound healing are known complications of both tummy tuck and breast augmentation, though not particularly common. But a hernia- where a hole forms in the abdominal wall, allowing your intestines to herniate out, should never happen after a strictly cosmetic tummy tuck).
So here’s the problem: the majority of patients in the study relied on Medicaid to cover their complications. And Medicaid is funded by taxpayer dollars. Which means Plastic surgery tourism is costing you directly.
What’s the official word?
The American Society of Plastic Surgery is the governing body for board certified Plastic surgeons. And the ASPS released a safety statement recommending against Plastic surgery tourism. Here are two of the major points covered in the statement:
- You can’t easily look up your surgeon’s credentials if they aren’t accredited in the US. So you literally have no idea how your surgeon is trained.
- You are traveling right after surgery. This means you may be responsible for things like taking out your own drain, which is absurd. Drains can break off, and if part of it is left behind you can get a serious infection. I’ve seen this happen. People with no medical training (specifically, how to pull a drain out safely) should not be removing drains!
So why is Plastic surgery tourism popular?
One word: money. People travel for Plastic surgery to save money. But this completely backfires if you have problems that require follow up. Something simple like a small wound separation is simple to take care of if your surgeon is local, but it means several visits. If you are paying out of pocket for a local surgeon to see you this gets expensive. That’s if you can even find a surgeon who will agree to see you. Many surgeons don’t want to deal with another surgeon’s complications, which leaves you going to your local ER. And if you have a bad result, revisions are more expensive than the original surgery because they are more complex.
What if you can’t afford surgery in the US?
If you can’t afford surgery in the US, you can’t afford surgery overseas. Especially once you count the cost of airfare and hotel, the savings often isn’t that impressive. And if you need follow up afterward, you are serious trouble!
My recommendation? Either save up and have surgery locally, or don’t have surgery at all. I would love to hear what you think about Plastic surgery tourism. You can leave a comment here, or join me on Facebook.
Dr. Greer is a Plastic Surgeon who practices in Cleveland, OH. Her passion is helping moms regain self-confidence by getting rid of sagginess, wrinkles, and stubborn fat. Read more about her at www.greerplastics.org.