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Considering Plastic Surgery Abroad?

A Plastic Surgeon's Opinion on the Safety of Plastic Surgery Tourism


Updated December 29, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

bad plastic surgery

Example of plastic surgery results sought abroad. While many people may not have any problems with surgery in other countries, there are added risks, but less accountability.

Photo © Millicent Odunze, M.D., M.P.H.

To cut down on costs, some Americans are getting plastic surgery done abroad. Thailand, Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico are a few of the most popular destinations. Plastic surgery costs can be cut by half or even more, plus there is the added bonus of traveling to another country. For example, thigh liposuction in Egypt costs $260. In the United States it can range from $2,700 to $3,500, or more. Sounds like a great deal, right? Let's take a look.

First off, let me first say that bad plastic surgery can happen in the United States. No country is immune to doctors who have not been properly trained in plastic surgery choosing to hang a shingle and label themselves as a “cosmetic surgeon” or “plastic surgeon.” It happens all the time in the United States – gynecologists, family practitioners, dermatologists, can take weekend cosmetic surgery courses and then state that they are “trained.” These “trained” cosmetic surgeons are not only performing injections with Botox and Juvéderm, but also performing more complex procedures such as liposuction and tummy tucks. In the United States, while a “cosmetic surgeon” can have any background, the title of “plastic surgeon” can only be used if a surgeon has trained in an accredited plastic surgery residency or plastic surgery fellowship program.

One advantage of having surgery in the United States and not traveling abroad is follow-up. Follow-up after plastic surgery is just as important as the surgery itself. Minor issues can easily become major irreversible issues if they are not addressed early. If you leave Thailand a week after surgery, and you have a problem on day eight, what are you going to do? Sure you can seek medical care from a plastic surgeon in the United States, but in general plastic surgeons do not like taking care of another surgeon’s complication. Plus, you’re going to be charged an additional fee, as no plastic surgeon is going to work for free and shouldn’t be expected to, especially in this type of situation where the stakes are high. Without the ability to speak to the original surgeon, the plastic surgeon who is treating your complication is left to guess how things were done during surgery as there are many different ways to perform one procedure. The plastic surgeon is taking on an extra risk.

A second advantage of having your surgery done in the United States is the ability to research your surgeon. Did your surgeon really go to Harvard? Where did your surgeon obtain his or her plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery training? Does your surgeon have any pending or past medical infractions? A simple Google search should be able to determine if things add up.

Additionally, if there indeed was any negligence on your plastic surgeon’s part or of if there was something that was not done correctly in your original surgery, what is your recourse if you are in the United States and your surgeon is in Mexico, Egypt, South Africa, Thailand, or elsewhere? How are you going to go about making the surgeon accountable?

And what about language barriers if your surgery takes place in a non-English speaking country and you don’t speak the language? Perhaps your doctor speaks English but what about the nursing staff and those who will be looking after you?

More often than not, things will likely go well, but what if they don’t? That’s why we have insurance – in case things don’t go as planned. Even if you recoup your money, can you recoup your body? You only have one body. Isn’t it worth it to get it done right the first time? Forget about percentages. If bad plastic surgery happens to you, it’s 100%!

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