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Increased Awareness of Dangers of Medical Tourism Needed


An increasing number of Americans have begun traveling outside the country for medical treatment, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “medical tourism.” In 2008, it was estimated that approximately 1.3 million Americans sought healthcare procedures abroad, and that number is expected to double by this year.

Cosmetic surgery is an area where this is particularly true, but there has been little data on patient outcomes, follow-up, or complication rates.

In response, researchers from Nassau University Medical Center in New York conducted a survey of U.S. plastic surgeons to help define the scope of the problem, particularly in relation to complication rates, finding that there is a need for improved public awareness and education regarding medical tourism.

The results of the study have been published in the August issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Kaveh Alizadeh, MD, MSc, FACS and co-author Mark M. Melendez, MD, MBA surveyed 2,000 American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) members concerning their experience treating medical tourism patients with complications who returned to the US for resolution of their issues.

Less than 20% responded (368/2000), but the majority of respondents were private practitioners in a solo practice (61.1%), mainly from a metropolitan area and treating a mixture of cosmetic and reconstructive patients.

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Of the 368 who did respond, the majority (80.4%, 296) had experience with patients who had traveled abroad for cosmetic procedures, and over half (51.6%, 190) reported noticing an increasing trend over the last five years in the number patients presenting with complications from surgical tourism.

The patients had no one local for follow up care after returning from abroad where they had their procedures so were self-referred via the emergency room. Most of these patients had undergone either breast augmentation or body contouring procedures.

The survey found more than half of the patients required multiple operations to deal with their complication, and at least one patient required over a month of hospitalization in a surgical intensive care unit.

The largest percentage (31%) of complications occurred as a result of infection. Other common complications reported by respondents were dehiscence, contour abnormality, and hematoma. Compensation for complication treatment was highly variable, as not all patients or procedures were covered by insurance.

“This survey clearly shows the dangers of medical tourism and implies the need to strengthen awareness for patients, physicians and policy makers. I encourage all plastic surgeons who encounter patients considering surgery abroad to offer them a copy of guidelines on this topic from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), or ASPS,” said Foad Nahai, MD, Editor-in-Chief of "Aesthetic Surgery Journal," who also provided a commentary on the article. “This may serve as a starting point for a conversation in which the patient understands that plastic surgery tourism is not as simple as he or she might have thought and drops the notion of seeking care abroad. At the very least, the patient will leave the visit with a better understanding of questions to ask, risks to consider, and his or her personal responsibility regarding follow-up care.”

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by Ramona Bates, MD) from materials provided by The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), via PRWeb.

Complications From International Surgery Tourism; Mark M. Melendez and Kaveh Alizadeh; Aesthetic Surgery Journal August 2011 31: 694-697, doi:10.1177/1090820X11415977

Commentary on: Complications From International Surgery Tourism; Foad Nahai; Aesthetic Surgery Journal August 2011 31: 698-699, doi:10.1177/1090820X11416918