Overseas surgery, medical tourism, Thailand boobjob, Bali boobjob, Costa Rica boobjob, Mexico boobjob, Cosmeditour, Destination Beauty.

Call it what you want, it’s all the same thing. If you can be reading this on the internet, chances are good you can have a breast augment by a surgeon within 60 minutes drive of your house. 15 minutes if you live in a major city. So why would you choose to get on a plane and fly to another country/ state to have surgery?

Firstly, cost. The companies that promote surgical tourism rely on just one single selling point. Cost. That’s what they’ve got to offer you, and that’s what they’ll promote every time. Come to us, it’s cheaper. And you know what, they’re 95% correct. It is cheaper. Usually. If things go right first time.

Secondly, marketing. The companies that promote medical tourism are great at marketing and promotion. Surgeons usually are not. We have no training for it. The companies that promote tourism are experts at allaying your very natural fears and encouraging you to believe the downsides of overseas or interstate surgery are minimal. They get to gloss over the risks of surgery in general and overseas surgery in particular, because you can’t sue them anyway!

Combine those two factors, and there is a very healthy industry. It is, after all, not a terrible idea. If every patient who had surgery overseas had a bad experience, the whole industry would dry up pretty quickly.

But let me put a few ideas into your head, some of which you could easily work out for yourself, some you wouldn’t, but all of which you should at least have some knowledge of before you get on that plane.

It’s not as cheap as you might imagine.

The cosmetic tourism companies know you won’t be interested if they tell you it’s only a little bit cheaper than your own country. Even if they tell you it’s 20% cheaper, they know nobody will go for it. The people who run these companies are not plastic surgeons, or even doctors, they are primarily business guys and marketing guys. They’ve done a stack of market research and they know that they will never hook you in unless they tell you it’s going to cost half or less. So surprise surprise, that’s exactly what they tell you!

Of course, what they advertise as the cost is never what it ends up costing you. This fact does not bother the marketing guys, because they know that only a certain percent of people will ‘drop out’ of surgery or complain about extra costs. They know that once you’ve organised time off work, flights, etc, it’s highly unlikely you’ll walk away when you finally realise you’ll be paying extra for meals, accommodation upgrades, better implants etc.

Not all doctors are the same.

Australian patients expect that their doctors here in Australia will be well trained, truthful, and above all ethical, making the best interests of their patients their first and last priority, and definitely ahead of profits. Patients generally assume that overseas doctors are the same, because that’s been their experience of doctors their whole lives. Some overseas doctors are well trained. Some are experienced. Some are good at what they do. Some take the attitude that if you choose to turn up at their doorstep asking for surgery, anything that goes wrong thereafter is your problem, not theirs. Australian doctors are obliged by Australian law to ensure that their patients have received ‘informed consent’. Not so overseas. We meet many overseas trained doctors and it’s interesting sometimes how different their entire mindset towards the practice of medicine can be, even those trained in first world countries…

Imagine that you were shopping in Thailand and saw something labelled ‘meat pie’. Not for a second would you imagine it was the same as a thing labelled ‘meat pie’ here in Australia. Same goes for things labelled doctors.

You might not be hearing the whole story.

Most plastic surgery patients all over the world will tell you they’re glad they went ahead with surgery. In hindsight, they think they made a good decision. Everybody wants to believe that they are making good decisions in life, and one way of convincing ourselves of that, is to speak out loud that belief to other people.

Patients who travel for surgery know deep down that they are taking a risk. They want to convince themselves they made a great decision. When things go well for them, or even OK, or only slightly badly, they are very likely to tell all their friends, family, and strangers on the internet how happy they are with their decision to undergo major surgery in Azerbijian, and just how much money they (guesstimate that they) saved.

Patients who travel overseas and have something go wrong tell nobody. Not a soul. We know this because these are the overseas patients that we see, very often, asking us to get this or that redone, repaired, removed or remodelled. If we’re biased ourselves, it’s only because we don’t get to see the happy overseas patients.

This whole ‘all the good stories, and none of the bad’ tends to make patients researching overseas surgery imagine there are not many disasters.

Who you gonna call?

Surgery is a stressful time. It’s nice to have friends or family there to help you and support you through what can be a tough time. It’s nice to not have to pay for their airfares and accommodation and meals. Most of the overseas companies now get this, and provide you with a ‘paid friend’. It’s nice to not have to pay for friends.

It’s not a holiday.

It’s not. It might have been for the woman on the internet, or your neighbour’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend, but it won’t be for you.

Who cares… it’s cheaper!!!

Who cares, and why, and about what, is a good question. All surgeons, and travel companies, care about their reputations. We all want to do good work, and get good results, because we know that our happy patients will often recommend their friends and family to us. But if we know that our cheap prices and slick marketing will keep pulling the punters in through the door, regardless of having a few (or more than a few) unhappy patients, perhaps we have a little bit less interest in ensuring that every single person who walks through our door will walk out with the best result they could possibly have gotten.

Yeah but… cheaper!!!

Plastic surgeons in Australia are better paid than surgeons doing the same work overseas. But that is only one factor driving the difference in price. A fair amount of your extra money here in Australia goes towards making your surgery as safe as it can be made. A proper hospital with overnight and emergency facilities if required, Australian anaesthetists, genuine implants from the real manufacturer, etc.

Conversely a fair amount of the money you spend having surgery overseas goes towards accommodation, flights, the company’s 10% slice etc… so in the end, even less of your money is actually paying for a good surgeon to do safe surgery in a safe hospital. In plastic surgery, paying a lot more for an operation doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting a result that’s twice as good. But it probably means that corners are not being cut. I bet I cannot be the only surgeon who has ever removed CUI implants from a Thailand patient who had paid for and been given a Mentor implants warranty card and stickers! (This was from a ‘reputable’ surgeon in a ‘reputable major hospital’ in Thailand mind you.)

I find it interesting how commonly patients just ‘brush off’ this safety argument. It’s normal when being a tourist to accept different levels of risk compared to what you might accept in Australia. No motorbike helmet. Drinking moonshine. Adrenaline rushes of one sort or another. Surgery usually makes patients nervous. In fact here in Australia it’s common for patients to imagine the risks of surgery are greater than they truly are. Yet somehow overseas patients are willing to apply their ‘tourist standard’ of risk assessment to something they’d be really nervous about here in Australia.

We sometimes suggest to patients “If you wouldn’t drink the water there, why would you have surgery with instruments sterilised using water from there? Surgical hands scrubbed with that water?” I know the analogy has a lot of flaws, but it serves to point out that people will accept a lot of double standards in their own thinking if they believe they’re saving a few thousand dollars!

Now what?

Stuff can go wrong with surgery. Surgery here. Surgery there. Surgery anywhere.

Sometimes you don’t need a checkup with a doctor to know that something is has gone wrong, you can figure it out for yourself. If you’re not getting seen in the months after your surgery by a doctor who knows what to look out for, you’ll have to! Or ask on Realself.

Regardless of what went wrong, when, how, and why, if it’s badly wrong it will need to be fixed. With more surgery. Which can have stuff go wrong with it.

This time, you will be wanting the surgery done locally. By a real expert. Someone who can (try to) fix any complication.

This time, it will probably cost a lot more. Who pays for that? How much? How do you make them pay if they don’t want to? Do you know much about the legal system in Costa Rica?

So it’s worth realising your cheap price is not actually a price at all. It’s a raffle ticket. It’s a chance, a possibility, of ending up getting an OK result for less money, and a chance of it costing you a lot more. Money. Health. Life.

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