Are you willing to put your health and life at risk to save a few thousand dollars on cosmetic surgery? Well, according to some Aussies, it’s worth the risk. “Medical tourism” has been occurring for centuries, and cosmetic surgery is the newest, ever-evolving trend in the medical tourism industry. It is taking Australia and other developed countries by storm.

What exactly is medical tourism? According to the Australian Government website, medical tourism is the process by which patients travel abroad for medical care and procedures. Even though people have shopped for surgery overseas for quite some time, in the early 90s more and more people started showing an interest in medical care outside their own country.

How many Australians make up the medical tourism population seeking cosmetic surgery? Dr Meredith Jones, from the University of Technology in Sydney, runs an international group project researching cosmetic surgery tourism. According to her findings, Australians and people from the UK make up approximately 80 percent of this population; Aussies account for 15,000 of these travellers and spend a combined total of about $300 million, according to researchers from Sydney’s University of Technology.

So where do Aussies go to have these cosmetic procedures performed? According to Dr Jones, Thailand and Malaysia are the two most common countries Aussies visit to receive what they consider to be “affordable” surgery.

Why are Aussies so anxious to travel to these countries in the first place? There should obviously be some benefits involved, right? Well, there are, and they aren’t just monetary benefits, either. Some other perceived benefits are listed below.

The perceived benefits of traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery, according to Voigt et al. (2010), are

  • Better quality of health care
  • Cost savings
  • Unavailability of surgery methods, services and drugs in the country of origin
  • No long waiting lists
  • Patients’ anonymity
  • Geographical proximity
  • Holiday or vacation time spent in another country

Keep in mind that these are the “perceived” benefits; the “beliefs” consumers have about having surgery performed outside their own country. In order to take a more objective stance on this topic, let’s look at some of the potential issues involved in medical tourism and surgery.

Many people in underdeveloped countries travel abroad seeking a better quality of health care because they don’t have access to certain technology, medicine, or surgeries in their own countries. However, the exact opposite is occurring among the middle class in more developed countries like Australia, where they have access to quality health care and most surgical procedures. The main reason why Aussies travel a few thousand miles to another country to have cosmetic surgery is the thought of improving their looks and saving a few thousand dollars at the same time.

It is certainly the case that cosmetic surgery is less expensive in countries like Thailand and Malaysia. So people who travel to other countries for cosmetic procedures might save money, but they often fail to consider the risks and complications that can arise when these procedures are done in foreign countries.

One serious drawback is that it is very hard to do your “homework” when the surgery is on foreign soil. How, for instance, do you research surgeons in countries where the medical system is unfamiliar? How do you choose the right cosmetic surgeon for you? You can go by word of mouth, but that’s a pretty risky way to choose a surgeon, especially if the procedure you want is different from the one your friend had.

Follow-up appointments can also be a problem. What happens, for instance, if you develop an infection or your post op stitches don‘t heal like they are supposed to? If you’re on vacation or in the country only for a short period of time, you might not even have a follow up appointment. But follow-ups are imperative for post operation cosmetic surgery procedures because they give the surgeon a chance to make sure everything turns out the way it’s supposed to.

You may have always wanted an exotic vacation in another country. Great! Plan one with your family or loved ones and skip the cosmetic surgery abroad. After all, you’ll be in a country where you probably won’t know the language and will not be familiar with the culture. Is this where you want to recuperate? Consider also that the surgery may not go as planned. What if it goes awry, and you need an extended period of time to have it put right?

Think about combining a foreign vacation with surgery. What kind of vacation will you have, dealing with pain and soreness after your cosmetic procedure is performed? You’ll be limited to certain activities, like sleeping and walking short distances. How does that make for a fun vacation?

And how much money do you actually save? Countries that offer cheap surgery may only be a few thousand miles away, but you still need to pay for a plane ticket, hotel room, food and transportation. Add to those expenses the cost of multiple appointments before surgery. You don’t just show up and expect to have work done. You need to first plan on meeting your surgeon to discuss options, and then schedule other appointments to work out the details. Follow-up appointments, time permitting, will have to be paid for, too.

Plus, it can be quite stressful trying to find your way around the medical establishment in a foreign country where you know absolutely no one.

Another potential disadvantage of cosmetic surgery in a “cheaper country” is your flight home. Air travel soon after surgery can increase the risk of embolism, according to Dr Meredith Jones.

So if you do it right, you pay travel costs, pre-surgery appointments, post-surgery appointments, hospital fees, surgeons’ fees and hotel bills. And if your family comes along for a “vacation”….It all adds up.

As you can see, there is quite a lot to think about before you pack your bags and head to another country for cosmetic surgery. Is the possible risk to your life, health and beauty worth whatever money you might save? And bottom line:  Would you actually save any money?

For more information read our article “Due Diligence For Medical Tourism”

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