Fiona Rutherford published in Bloomberg on March 17, 2023 an article about the dangers of medical tourism.  Many of the arguments against medical tourism are issues that have long been known about medical tourism.  However, there are some twists.  Many have probably heard about the 4 Americans who traveled to Mexico only to be kidnapped, with two individuals being killed.

One of them was traveling to receive a tummy tuck, also known as abdominoplasty, removes excess fat and excess skin from the abdomen while repairing the abdominal wall, if necessary.  She points out that this procedure was once again among the top surgical cosmetic procedures in 2021, according to the latest US statistics from The Aesthetic Society.

Millions of US residents travel abroad each year seeking health-care services, swelling the ranks of medical tourists in a search for cheaper deals, often in neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada but also Colombia, Dominican Republic, Turkey, and others.  The author points out the obvious appeal to jumping on a plane and getting an elective procedure done for less than half of a comparable procedures in the US.

Another attraction is that surgeons abroad appear more willing to combine surgeries. A “Mommy Makeover” — typically breast surgery and a tummy tuck — might for instance get added to a Brazilian butt lift, in which fat is transferred to the buttocks to create an hourglass figure.  Dr. Kenneth Hughes never combines procedures that will result in greater than a 6 hour surgery, as longer surgeries have been associated with greater risks of blood clot, hypothermia, infection, and others.

There’s also the danger of picking unknown locations, as illustrated by the recent kidnapping in Mexico. Obviously, this inherently unknown element can make visitors or tourists more susceptible to crimes of various sorts.
There is also the issue of rare and invasive infections in other countries that were brought to the US for US doctors to deal with these serious medical complications.

But things can go wrong at home as well. Florida, for example, is dealing with some high-volume surgery centers that have become known as Brazilian buttlift mills. These centers offer a Brazilian Butt Lift procedure at bargain prices by squeezing in as many clients as possible, often compromising quality.

While reporting on this topic, the author of the article was struck by just how confusing the regulation of cosmetic surgery is. For one, just because a doctor uses the title “board certified,” doesn’t mean they have the skills to carry out the surgery safely.  The surgery should be performed by a plastic surgeon board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.  There are no other certifying boards of this same standard.