7 Dangers of Plastic Surgery Tourism

By Dr. Robert H. Gotkin, MD, FACS

Cosmetic Surgery is Real Surgery. Do it Right the First Time

We’ve seen a rise in the number of people traveling abroad to have plastic surgery. The cheaper costs may be tempting, but consider the risks. Recently, a woman from Atlanta lost her life after traveling to Colombia for a plastic surgical procedure. Plastic surgery is best performed by a qualified board-certified plastic surgeon.

Here are seven dangers associated with plastic surgery. Read carefully and see why you should not try to save money on your life!

1. Cosmetic surgery tourism is a price-driven phenomenon. Cosmetic surgery tourism has experienced increased growth over the past decade. Numerous companies offering all-inclusive vacation packages that include cosmetic surgery are popping up all over the world and can be easily located via the Internet.

The offers generally include private hospital services and tout “highly trained” and “credentialed” medical staff. Since elective cosmetic surgery procedures are not covered by insurance, price is the major selling point of cosmetic surgery tourism with entire vacation/surgical packages costing less than individual procedures in the United States. Although there are many skilled and qualified physicians practicing all over the world, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) cautions that it may be difficult to assess the training and credentials of surgeons outside of the United States.

Patients may take unnecessary risks when choosing cosmetic surgery vacations by unknowingly selecting unqualified physicians and having procedures performed in non-accredited surgical facilities. The ASPS and ASAPS urges patients to consider the potential complications, unsatisfactory results, and risks to general health that may occur.

2. Vacation-related activities may compromise a patient’s healing and health following surgery. Cosmetic surgery trips are marketed as vacations. Although enticing, vacation activities should be avoided after surgery. To properly heal and reduce the possibility of complications, patients should not sunbathe, drink alcohol, swim or snorkel, water ski or jet ski, parasail, take extensive tours (walking or bus), or exercise after surgery.

3. Cosmetic surgery is real surgery. At the highest level of care, every surgical procedure, including cosmetic surgery, has some risks. These risks may increase when procedures are performed during cosmetic surgery vacations. Infections are the most common complication seen in patients that go abroad for cosmetic surgery. Other complications include unsightly scars, hematomas, and unsatisfactory results.

Travel combined with surgery significantly increases the risk of complications. Individually, either long flights or surgery can increase the risk of developing deep venous thrombosis (blood clots in the leg veins) and pulmonary embolism. Traveling combined with surgery further increases the risk of developing these potentially fatal complications, in addition to swelling and infection. Before flying, wait five to seven days after body procedures such as liposuction and breast augmentation and seven to ten days after cosmetic procedures of the face including facelifts, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty (nasal surgery), and laser resurfacing treatments.

4. Postoperative monitoring and follow-up care may be limited in a surgical tourism situation. Such postoperative care is an important part of any surgical procedure. Cosmetic surgery vacation packages provide limited follow-up care, if any, once the patient returns to the United States.

Patients who travel outside of the United States for cosmetic surgery and experience a complication may find themselves at a distinct disadvantage if they require treatment for complications or require surgical revisions. Any subsequent treating plastic surgeon will not know what surgical techniques the overseas physician used in the initial operation; this makes treatment much more difficult. Revision surgical procedures can be more complicated than the initial operation and patients rarely get the results that can be obtained in the initial procedure.

5. Bargain surgery can be costly. Patients can incur additional costs for the treatment of complications or for revision procedures that may total more than the cost of the initial operation if originally performed in the United States.

6. Surgeon and facility qualifications may not be verifiable. For cosmetic surgery to be performed safely, it requires the proper administration of anesthesia; the use of sterile technique, modern instrumentation and equipment, as well as properly trained surgeons.

Vacation destinations may not have formal medical accreditation boards to certify surgeons or medical facilities. Many facilities are privately owned and operated, making it difficult to check the credentials of surgeons, anesthesiologists and other medical personnel. There are no U.S. laws that protect patients or mandate the training and qualifications of physicians who perform plastic surgery outside of the United States. There may be no legal recourse if negligence by the physician or institution occurs.

7. Devices and products used may not meet U.S. standards. Cosmetic surgery products or devices used in other countries may not have been tested, proven safe and effective, or been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, an implant used in the United States must meet standards of safety and effectiveness, a process regulated by the FDA. Other countries may not have similar regulations.