Who is Really Paying for Cosmetic Surgery Tourism?
Dr. Kenneth Hughes in Los Angeles sees his own share of patients who have had cosmetic surgery abroad in other areas of country. These patients may have early complications that require treatment or intervention. Most commonly, Dr. Kenneth Hughes sees these patients months or years after this surgery for revision procedure or procedures.
Cosmetic surgery tourism refers to the popular process of having surgery in a different location from that in which the patient lives. However, the motivation for the travel has little to do with touring a particular areas or seeking out the best surgeon for a procedure. The term has come to carry with it the pejorative connotation that the motivation is usually do a financial savings on the procedures performed. May of these procedures are performed outside the United States. These procedures are performed by non-board certified plastic surgeons and non-plastic surgeons as well. Some of these individuals may be emergency room physicians, family practice doctors, or OB-GYN doctors. The procedures may be performed in operating rooms and surgery centers with staff that do not have to pass the very stringent certification process for ambulatory surgery centers in the United States.
Some of these concerns were articulated in a recent article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Complications of Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: Case Series and Cost Analysis, 15 April 2020. The authors commented that patients were lured by lower cost procedures, shorter waiting lists, and affordable airfare and hotel accommodations. There were concerned that the operations are often performed by non-board-certified plastic surgeons, sometimes not even by plastic surgeons. Preoperative counseling, frequently limited to a video-chat with an office secretary, provides inadequate discussion regarding potential complications. Postoperative care is careless and rarely involves the operating surgeon. Complications are frequent, with management falling into the hands of plastic surgeons unfamiliar with the patient’s care. Furthermore, the physician, rather than the patient or hospital, faces the largest cost burden.
The most common complication was infection, often requiring surgery or IV antibiotics on discharge. Mean cost per patient was $26,657.19, ranging from $392 (single outpatient visit) to $154,700.79 (prolonged admission and surgery). Physicians treating the complications suffered the greatest financial loss and were largely not compensated though severely burdened.