In recent years, countries like Thailand, India and Malaysia have seen an influx of “medical tourists” from all over the world. Low prices coupled with exciting travel locales have fueled a growing interest in medical tourism for plastic and reconstructive surgery patients.
Medical tourism, a term used to describe the practice of traveling internationally for medical care, isn’t always the safest or cheapest option for plastic and reconstructive surgery. This can be especially true for the transgender community.
Both the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) have voiced concerns about patients experiencing significant complications following cosmetic surgery abroad. While there are certainly excellent plastic surgeons around the world, some patients are choosing medical tourism for the wrong reason – a cheap deal.
If you’re considering gender confirmation surgery abroad, you may want to think carefully about this decision. While no surgery comes risk-free, there are additional risks to consider when seeking complicated surgical procedures abroad.
In the United States, there is a great deal of accountability, both from our legal system and the certification entities that rigorously evaluate our medical professionals. Plastic surgeons who fail to demonstrate good ethics or a high level of expertise are stripped of their board certification. In contrast, it can be difficult to determine what standards a plastic surgeon abroad must meet or what recourse a patient would have if their surgeon performed substandard work.
While there are certainly highly qualified plastic surgeons practicing all over the world, you may have trouble verifying your surgeon’s credentials or the standards of medical facilities and equipment by simply browsing online or contacting a travel agency. It may even be difficult to determine if your surgeon or the surgical staff can speak conversational English.
If you are considering surgery abroad, you must do extensive research. Different countries have different standards of medical care. Selecting an ASPS Member Surgeon Abroad and a facility that has been accredited by organizations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI) can greatly reduce many of the risks associated with medical tourism.
Many plastic surgery procedures abroad are sold as a “holiday package.” Don’t let this fool you. A full recovery can take several weeks to several months, which means that you may not be ready to participate in most vacation-related activities such as having a drink, lying in the sun or engaging in energetic activities without increasing your risk of complications.
If a complication occurs while you are still abroad, you may be subject to medical care far different from US healthcare standards. If a complication occurs once you’ve returned to the US, you will be far away from the surgeon who has recently performed your surgery, which can make post-operative treatment more complicated and increase medical costs. Either situation can be very stressful and should be considered in your decision-making process.
Additionally, when it’s time for your flight back home, you probably won’t be fully recovered . This can make for a very uncomfortable experience. A long flight can also increase your risk of developing a pulmonary embolism and blood clots.
Post-surgical care is an important component of the recovery process. Most post-surgical care such as changing dressings, removing stitches and monitoring healing can be necessary for many weeks – long after your “vacation” has ended. There may also be a need for additional prescriptions such as antibiotics or oral pain medication. Without this essential care, you’ll need to seek additional medical care back home, which can result in significant medical-related costs.
Medical issues can sometimes arise several years after your original procedure, so you will also need full documentation, just as a precaution. It is important to ensure that all medical notations can be translated so that you will have a record of treatment to give to your physician back home.
Travel insurance can help you avoid expensive medical bills, delays in treatment and undue stress in the event of a medical emergency. However, most travel insurance policies will not cover elective surgical procedures. This means that you might not be covered if something goes go wrong as a result of your surgery.
If a dangerous complication occurs while you’re abroad, you may be required to extend your travel time for several days or weeks – resulting in additional accommodation costs and time spent away from work. If you’re considering gender confirmation surgery abroad, it’s important to inform your insurer and find out how it may affect your coverage later.