Medical Tourism and Plastic Surgery

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015, 3:26 am

One of the great things about Fort Worth is the ease of access to the world afforded by DFW airport. American Airlines has its headquarters here in town and DFW is its largest hub. With U.S. based airlines like United, Delta, and Spirit, it's easy to either fly here from anywhere in the country, or to fly from here to anywhere else. DFW now even has nonstop flights to and from Australia on Qantas, the UAE on Etihad and Emirates, Seoul on Korean Air, and a number of carriers to many places in Europe.

So, why am I talking about this on my plastic surgery blog? Because of medical tourism. It has become all the rage. Forbes magazine estimated that 1.25 million Americans would travel abroad for some type of medical care in 2014. That number seems a bit high to me, but it's Forbes and they seem to know a lot about numbers. The point of the Forbes article is that Americans are traveling to other countries for care. Costs for many treatments and many surgical procedures are higher in the US than many other places in the world. If quality of care is high, outcomes are good, and cost is low, why not go?

Seoul, South Korea, is one of the "hot spots" listed in almost any article about medical tourism. Apparently Chinese citizens are traveling there in throngs to undergo cosmetic surgery. The Ritz Carlton in Seoul even partnered with hospitals there, offering an "anti-aging beauty package" for a mere $88,000 (US dollars). Sounds like a bargain! Other popular places people are going for surgical procedures include Costa Rica, India, and Mexico. To see what all the fuss is about I thought I'd check into what it would cost for a woman to undergo breast augmentation in each of these four hot medical tourism destinations: Seoul (Korea), San Jose (Costa Rica), Mumbai (India), and Monterrey (Mexico). As a comparison, breast augmentation in Fort Worth typically costs somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000, depending on the specific breast implants used. This cost includes the breast implants, surgeon's fee, facility fee, anesthesia, and preoperative and postoperative visits. Different surgeons charge different amounts, but I believe the total cost of $4,000 to $5,000 is about right for Fort Worth. If you travel to Seoul, be prepared to pay about $6,000 for your augmentation. Monterrey Mexico? About $4,000. Mumbai: about $3,800. Costa Rica will also cost about $3,800. Interestingly when looking at websites that promote international medical tourism, I found that those websites typically list the "average" cost of breast augmentation in the US to be $9,000. Gulp. $9,000!! So of course it seems like $3,800 in Costa Rica is a huge bargain when you compare it to $9,000. There probably are places in this country that charge $9,000; I just don't know where. Maybe Manhattan? But really, when you compare the cost of breast augmentation in Fort Worth, Texas to those four "hot spot" medical tourism destinations, it almost makes me wonder why anyone from North Texas would travel to one of those places to undergo this type of cosmetic surgery.

Having been a plastic surgeon in Fort Worth for 20 years, I have had the privilege of performing cosmetic surgery for women not only from all areas of Texas but also from places like California, Canada, New York, and Florida. DFW airport makes the travel easy, but it's our outcomes that make it even possible. I do surgery in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers that undergo strict accreditation processes. If you want to see a hospital administrator sweat, tell her that The Joint Commission (formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, or JCAHO) is coming to do an inspection of the facility. The Joint Commission has created and continuously improves strict sets of standards and clinical practice guidelines that hospitals and other facilities must meet or exceed if they want to continue providing care for patients. Failing a Joint Commission Survey means a facility may have to close. Facilities are inspected every three years. It is through inspections like these that surgical facilities in the United States maintain some of the very highest standards in the world. The Joint Commission doesn't just look at the physical layout of a surgical facility. It also inspects things like the credentialing process the facility uses to make sure that the doctors who work there are qualified to do the things they are doing. For instance, if I want to do breast augmentation surgery at a facility, the facility needs to make sure that I have completed appropriate training and have met certain national and community standards. Board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery is one measure that facilities use to help them make sure a surgeon is qualified to perform cosmetic surgery. The facilities also request information about where a surgeon did his or her training, about malpractice suits, and about having a medical license to practice in that state (in my case, Texas). The American Board of Plastic Surgery has its own rigorous process regarding certification of plastic surgeons. This all sounds great, but if you are still reading you're probably getting a little bored by now. The point of all of this is that if you undergo breast augmentation in Fort Worth, Texas by a plastic surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, you have a pretty good idea about the qualifications of the facility and the qualifications of the surgeon who is doing your surgery (preferably me!). Can you really say that about undergoing breast augmentation in Costa Rica or Mexico or some other country? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly different countries have requirements regarding who can do what as far as surgical procedures are concerned. One of the biggest problems is that we, as consumers, don't really necessarily understand what those qualifications are. Are standards regarding sterilization processes of instruments the same in India as in Dallas? Maybe. What about standards regarding immunization status of the personnel who will be taking care of you? The same in all places, or different, and does that really matter? In the U.S., you know that there are amazingly high standards of care. There may be similar high standards in all of these hot spot medical tourism destinations as well, but it's just not as clear.

Now, suppose you take the next step and actually go to another country to undergo breast augmentation. Maybe you're thinking, hey, it costs a little less (excluding the travel, of course), you've researched what you can, and what the heck, there's a little vacation thrown into the mix. After all, travel to Costa Rica can be pretty exciting. Monkeys, exotic butterflies, rain forests...just an amazing place. But when you are being wheeled into the operating room, do you know what implants are going to be used? Different countries have different implants available. Just ask women in France how they liked their PIP implants. That company used industrial grade silicone rather than medical grade silicone for their implants, the implants had twice the rupture rate of other implants, and the head of the company was sentenced to four years of prison for fraud. While those implants are no longer even available, they were available and being used at one time. Knowing specifics about the breast implants that will be used is really important. Also, will there be a warranty with the implants being used? Probably, but you better make sure. And making sure might be kind of difficult. While your surgeon probably speaks and understands English well, most of the staff responsible for getting you safely through surgery and the recovery area probably don't.

Medical tourism is a growing industry. Travelling abroad is exciting, and people usually have good results. There are some uncertainties, though, that are worth considering as discussed above. Here in Fort Worth we see patients from all areas of Texas as well as from all over the country. The distances some of these people travel make this, too, a form of medical tourism. However, undergoing surgery in the U.S. does provide some certainties regarding standards. Language is not usually an issue. Cost definitely varies around the country. In my experience costs for cosmetic surgery are lower in Fort Worth than almost any other city of similar or larger size in the U.S., and similar (at least for breast augmentation) to costs in the international hot spots for medical tourism. So, skip the passport and the immunizations! Jump on American Airlines or Delta or United or Spirit or load up the car and come on down/over to Fort Worth. It's a great city with a vibrant art scene and cool downtown, nice places to stay, and all kinds of interesting places to eat. My office is in the downtown medical district and we would love to have the opportunity to help you fine tune your image!

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Category: plastic surgery, Procedures, Uncategorized


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