Cosmetic Surgery Abroad: What Price Do You Really Pay for Bargain Plastic Surgery? by Dr. Michael Somenek
Each year, thousands of American cosmetic surgery patients seek out "bargains" in foreign destinations including Mexico, Central, and Latin America and elsewhere. What these patients do not know, is that having plastic surgery abroad is truly a case of "buyer beware."
A bargain at the outset could result in more money spent on revision surgery or worse, death or disfigurement at the hands of an incompetent surgeon or in a compromised surgical setting. Despite the risk, people continue to sign up for bargain plastic surgery vacations. Type "cosmetic surgery vacation" into a web search engine, and hundreds of programs abroad will pop up. In some cases, people can save up to 88 percent on cosmetic procedures by getting them outside the U.S. Many board-certified plastic surgeons are appalled at this trend because of the added risks involved.
Board-certified Washington, D.C., plastic surgeon Dr. Troy Pittman has become acutely aware of the dangers of foreign cosmetic surgery versus the relatively safe and controlled surgical environment normally found in the United States. "At this point, I think I may have seen and re-operated on it all," he says, "From implants that look as if they were crudely fashioned to those that have become infected or dislocated and have to be removed, to botched facelift, eyelid and nasal surgery, and even liposuction with results ranging from poor to non-existent including incisions placed in bizarre places." What Dr. Pittman finds so remarkable is that even when correcting the work of American plastic surgery gone awry he "does not even begin to see that level of bizarre and sub-standard techniques as used abroad."
How Is the U.S. Different From Other Countries?
What separates the standards in the United States from those of the other countries? According to Pittman, "in the United States, there is a plastic surgery standard that is probably higher than anywhere else in the world. This includes a high level of sterility, the quality of the technological or surgical equipment, and a surgeon's training. Foreign countries often have neither the money nor the resources to have a generalized standard of care. Contrast this with the United States where we have no shortage of patient advocates and medical and state boards which make sure certain doctors are adhering to specific standards."
Is All Foreign Plastic Surgery Dangerous?
Does this mean that plastic surgery in foreign countries is uniformly dangerous? "Certainly not," says Dr. Pittman. He adds, "in almost any country one can find qualified plastic surgeons. In some countries, cosmetic surgery is excellent. Unfortunately, these are not usually the places that offer 'bargains.'"
Receiving Proper Post Surgical Care After Returning Home
"Even if a patient has an excellent result at the time of their surgery, there are other factors that come into play that if not properly identified can lead to an unsatisfactory final result." As Dr. Pittman stresses, "the most important aspect of surgery is not only the surgery itself but the frequency and thoroughness of follow-up visits and post-operative care." He adds that "patients need to be advised when they can resume activities such as work and exercise, therefore, it is essential that a patient be able to get in touch with their doctor at all times. How can they do that with time differences and doctors thousands of miles away who can't see them in person, who may or may not have answering services for emergencies, or may or may not even speak English?"
Being Far Away From the Nearest Hospital
Although a resort setting such as Mexico might seem a pleasant place to have surgery, emergencies can happen in even the most competent hands. When surgery is performed in the United States, most doctors are affiliated with a hospital and are no more than a few miles from a major medical center equipped to handle such emergencies. When surgery is performed in a foreign country, a patient could be a life-threatening distance from additional medical care.
Little to No Legal Recourse for the Patient When Surgery Goes Awry
What recourse does a patient have as a result of untoward results in a foreign country? "Little if any," reports Dr. Pittman. "There may be no venue for legal recourse for a patient encountering a problem as a result of sub-standard care in a foreign country. Geographic distance would render legal action both costly and inconvenient. The patient originally seeking a bargain will wind up spending even more money, not to mention the time and effort involved."
Advice for Bargain Seekers
What advice would Dr. Pittman give to patients determined to seek 'bargain' plastic surgery overseas? "Don't do it," he says. If a patient is not willing to heed his advice, Dr. Pittman would advise them to call a board-certified plastic surgeon who has a good reputation in the United States and ask him or her if they can recommend a colleague overseas. One must understand that many American surgeons, Dr. Pittman included, are not anxious to assume responsibility for recommending surgery out of the country. Finally, ask yourself, if you can’t afford an elective procedure, it is really worth risking your life in the name of vanity?
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