Is it safe to get plastic surgery abroad?

Medical tourism has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years as Americans are looking past borders and oceans to save money on face-lifts, breast augmentations, and other elective procedures not covered by insurance.  Some foreign countries are offering less expensive procedures when compared to the United States but they may not be as safe as you would expect.  A botched surgery can ultimately cost more, both in health and money.

Why is this dangerous?

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has vetted and certified about 1,500 surgeons in 73 countries who meet U.S. standards.  Surgeons who aren't on that list may be good, but their credentials, training, and prior disciplinary record can be hard to verify.

These procedures are sometimes performed in surgeon's offices instead of in hospitals because they do have not the advantage to be accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities as it can be guaranteed in the US.

Any surgical procedure may involve several risks and side effects such as:

    • dizziness, nausea and excessive pain
    • significant bleeding requiring a transfusion
    • infection at the site of the incision
    • requiring additional surgery that may leave bigger scars
    • accumulation of fluid beneath the wound which may need to be drained with a needle
    • drop in body temperature as a result of long operative procedures

If something goes wrong, as is possible with any procedure, getting the help you need may be more difficult than you imagined. Partly for legal reasons, U.S. doctors may be reluctant to correct complications incurred abroad.  Revision surgery for botched cases can end up costing far more than the original procedure.  U.S. malpractice laws don't apply in other countries.

What if you still want to look abroad?

If you aren’t convinced to stay local for surgery, investigate the surgeons and the hospitals or clinics and pay attention to the surgeon's credentials and testimonials. Play it safe and do not pay for any service before you arrive to the offshore clinic that will attend your request.  Use your credit card instead of cash to pay for any service in order to get your money back if for any reason you are not satisfied with the results or attention.  Try to arrive before the day scheduled for your cosmetic procedure to familiarize yourself with the clinic facilities and ask all your questions to the surgeon.  The more developed the country the best chances you will have to avoid the risks that are associated with any type of plastic surgery.

If you've done your homework and are confident you've found a skilled surgeon, treat the trip for what it is—surgery, not a holiday.  Remember that vacation activities like swimming, sunbathing, or drinking can slow down the healing process and contribute to infection or bleeding.  Guidelines from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons suggest that patients wait up to 10 days, depending on the procedure, before flying.