Medical tourism on the rise despite warnings

A new breed of tourist is taking the post-holiday glow to a new level and booking in for cosmetic surgery abroad.

No official statistics are available on the number of Australians leaving the country for surgery, but Patients Beyond Borders, which publishes guides for such tourists, estimates that globally about 8 million patients go overseas for medical care – and that figure is growing about 15 to 25 per cent a year.

The announcement by private health insurer NIB to provide overseas surgical packages has reignited the debate which pits cut-priced procedures against the concern of many Australian medical professionals who warn against the practice.

Medical tourism operators co-ordinate travel, accommodation and medical care for clients. For those travelling alone, escorted groups can be organised.

The director of Medi Makeovers, Daniela Pratico, says the company works with a team of GPs and surgeons in Australia to eliminate some of the most common complications.

“There are only three factors that affect medical tourists – cost, availability and quality,” Pratico says. “Price is very obvious. There are no waiting lists in Thailand for patients, and the quality of the procedures and service are very high.”
She adds that patients can save 70 per cent on some procedures.
But reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon Mark Edinburg of the Eden Institute says that while the cost may appear lower, this isn’t always the case.

“We are frequently required to rectify cosmetic tourism surgery, which means that the initial planned costs are considerably higher to rectify the issue and can sometimes increase up to three or fourfold.”

Melissa Dever is unhappy with the results of her overseas surgery. After losing 55 kilograms, she wanted surgery to remove excess skin. So she travelled to Malaysia for a tummy tuck, breast lift and liposuction on her arms and thighs.

She says the facilities and medical care were on par with those in Australia but a “dog-ear” flap of skin on her breast has been left uncorrected, despite a “satisfaction guarantee” she assumed she was eligible for.

“I’m still happy with the overall look and would still recommend people investigate foreign options for surgery.

“Anyone considering it should ask lots of questions and also certainly research any guarantee policy,” she says.

While Ms Dever’s complications were minor, some aren’t so lucky. Dr Edinburg says: “I’ve seen patients who have returned from overseas with breast implants placed at different levels, asymmetries, poor face lifting results and wound ruptures.”

“We are then left to improve the result which, at times, is not possible because of poor planning, poor placement of incision lines, the wrong implant type or position of insertion of the implants.”

It’s not all bad news though. When Erin Williams’ quote for plastic surgery came in at more than $50,000, she researched overseas options before on the Philippines for the tummy tuck, arm lift, butt lift, thigh lift and corrective breast surgery. Despite the pain from surgery, for her the experience was treated as a holiday. “After a week of tolerable yet unpleasant pain, I was up to going out and doing a little bit of shopping. By the end of my fourth week in Manila, I was still impressively swollen but feeling fit, healthy and great.

“My time in Manila was absolutely magnificent. I had a brilliant holiday and will look back on this experience with fondness for the rest of my life.”
The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons advises Australians contemplating going overseas for surgery to research their surgeon and qualifications thoroughly, suggesting a member of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery is best suited.
The society also encourages patients to research the person promoting the surgery to see if they are medically trained and accept liability – or will provide help if problems arise.

Travel agents or brokers are considered high risk and extra questions should be asked on who will do the surgery.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald