Going abroad to do a medical procedure, also known as medical tourism, is becoming a more widespread in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 750,000 Americans travel to another country, usually a less developed one, to obtain medical care every year. The numbers are only growing over time.
Patients have many reasons for electing medical tourism, but most do it to save money. This is especially inviting for cosmetic surgery, which can be much more expensive in the United States.
For example, average costs for medical procedures can be reduced by 65 percent in Turkey, Mexico and Costa Rica. In India, patients can potentially save up to 90 percent.
However, there are potential drawbacks. Dr. Robert Singer, plastic surgeon and board member of the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities International (AAAASFI) warns of possible facility quality issues.
“The quality of the hospitals outside of the United States varies tremendously. Many of the patients have procedures done in a clinic or office unrelated to a hospital, and it may never be inspected,” Singer said.
“In addition, many of the hospitals are not up to U.S. standards and have no accreditation. Most countries don’t have any regulation or required accreditation of surgical facilities.”
Even if the clinic is in good shape, the surgeons and staff members (such as nurses and anesthesia providers) may lack proper training or credentials.
Additionally, the distance makes it difficult to communicate with the doctor both before and after the surgery. Potential language barriers can also compromise care.
“There is no reasonable patient-doctor relationship,” Singer said.
For those who want to go abroad for a cosmetic procedure, it is essential to do research on the surgeon and facility overseas. Medical tourists often choose to hire a private company, or “medical concierge” to search for the facility.
Singer said that patients should look for facility accreditation by an international accrediting organization such as AAAASFI.