Would you be willing to travel to another country just to obtain less-expensive plastic or cosmetic surgery? Many Americans are doing precisely that, according to an article in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery—Global Open, the official open-access medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
The paper, by ASPS Member Surgeon Dr. Kevin C. Chung and Lauren E. Franzblau of the University of Michigan, focuses on “the rise and transformation of the medical tourism industry, foreign and domestic forces that influence cosmetic surgical tourism, and the pros and cons for all involved parties.” The authors claim “The rapid globalization of the industry also marks a fundamental shift in the world’s perception of elective procedures: patients are becoming consumers and these medical services are being viewed as commodities.”
While traveling for medical care is not really anything new, it is the method that is causing such a controversy. In the past, people from poorer countries were more likely to travel to wealthier countries to ensure higher-quality results. Now, with easier and cheaper options for travel, more individuals from the United States and other westernized countries are now flocking to developing countries for more cost-effective plastic surgery. Since strictly cosmetic surgery is not covered insurance, the motivation for cheaper alternatives has greatly attributed to the medical tourism market.
Dr. Kevin C. Chung and Lauren E. Franzblau provide compelling evidence. “Figures vary, but there’s a consensus that medical tourism is growing rapidly: India alone may have more than one million medical tourists per year. Other countries with growing medical tourism industries include Mexico, Dubai, South Africa, Thailand and Singapore. Prices for cosmetic surgery in these countries are typically much lower than at home. For example, a breast augmentation procedure that would cost $6,000 in the U.S. can be done for $2,200 in India.”
The increase in plastic surgery in other countries has been augmented so much (slight pun intended) that certain countries now offer plastic surgery procedures in resort settings. The preponderance of plastic surgery abroad is started to affect the U.S. market. “Because the practice of medical travel does not appear to be going away in the foreseeable future, plastic surgeons must understand the international market and learn to compete in it,” Chung and Franzblau write. “To retain patients and be competitive in a global market, U.S. plastic surgery must be vigilant of the changes in medical tourism and must adapt accordingly.”